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Food Makers OK Deal To Cut School Snack Fat

Armen Hareyan's picture

School Snacks and Nutrition

Snacks sold in schools will have to cut the fat, sugar and salt under the latest crackdown on junk food won by former President Bill Clinton.

Just five months after a similar agreement to cut down on sodas in schools, Clinton and the American Heart Association announced a deal Friday with several major food companies to make school snacks healthier - the latest assault on the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.

"By working with schools and industry to implement these guidelines, we are helping to give parents peace of mind that their kids will be able to make healthier choices at school," said Dr. Raymond Gibbons, president of the heart association.

The agreement with Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., Campbell Soups Co., Dannon and PepsiCo Inc. sets guidelines for fat, sugar, sodium and calories for snack foods sold in school vending machines, stores and snack bars. Those companies make everything from M&M's, yogurt and granola bars to Frito-Lay potato chips, Snickers bars and canned soups.

Under the guidelines, most foods won't be permitted to derive more than 35% of their calories from fat and more than 10% from saturated fat. There will be a limit of 35% for sugar content by weight.

An example of a snack that would be banned is a Snickers bar, which has 280 calories, 130 of them from fat - nearly half. The candy bar has 30 grams of sugar out of 58.7 total grams - more than half.

Gibbons said Thursday that the guidelines are based on the recommendations of leading scientists "as to what we should be doing to provide more nutritious foods for our kids."

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Charles Nicolas, a spokesman for PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay and Quaker, said Frito-Lay already has products that meet the guidelines, like baked potato chips and reduced-sugar chewy bars.

"We're going to change a few recipes so that more snacks meet those guidelines as well," he said.

In a statement, Kraft said, "As part of today's agreement, Kraft will add the Alliance's sodium and calorie caps to our current nutrition guidelines and extend these guidelines to include all of our competitive foods sold in schools."

Clinton's William J. Clinton Foundation teamed up with the heart association to form the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in 2005. The alliance was formed with the goal of reversing the trend toward childhood obesity, which has been blamed for an increase in early-onset diabetes and other ills.

In May, the alliance announced an agreement with beverage industry leaders to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat and non-fat milk in elementary and middle schools. Diet sodas and sports drinks are still being sold in high schools.

Officials said that agreement covered 87% of the soft drink market in public and private schools.

Bob Harrison, executive director of the alliance, said the snack-food industry is not as concentrated as the beverage industry, so the reach of this agreement will not be as wide as the earlier one.

But he said the five companies participating in the new agreement are market leaders and their influence will be felt.

"We think this is a very significant first step toward providing healthier snacking options for kids in schools," he said.