Schools weigh in on Smart Snacks in Schools Program, reducing sugar-sweetened beverages

Schools weigh in on Smart Snacks in Schools Program, reducing sugar-sweetened beverages

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – A recent 2016 Washington Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) shows that teens are drinking fewer sugar-sweetened drinks in schools.

The HYS is voluntary, and given every two years to 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th-graders. In the fall of 2016, more than 230,000 students from more than 1,000 schools, 236 school districts, and 39 counties took part.

The Washington State Department of Health said a contributing factor to the decline is the Smart Snacks in Schools Program, which started in 2014.

"This is really showing us that all these efforts that schools, school districts and communities have been doing over the past 10 years, even before this policy went into place, have been working," said Amy Ellings, program manager for Healthy Eating Active Living Program at the Washington Department of Health.

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, including non-diet sodas, sports drinks and other flavored sweetened drinks, is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cavities.

All foods sold at school during the school day are required to meet nutrition standards. The Smart Snacks in School regulation applies to foods sold a la carte, in the school store, vending machines, and any other venues where food is sold to students.

"You might have a soda machine that was in a school, and all those sugary beverages had to be replaced with less sugary beverages or no sugar beverages," Ellings said.

The goal she said is to help kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy.

"We all know that what we eat and what we drink is shaped by what’s available to us," she said.

School advisors at Pasco High said the Smart Snacks in Schools Program has brought some awareness and discussion to healthier options.

"They are very stringent guidelines in terms of what you can sell of sodium content, sugar content, and fat content,” DECA Advisor Laura Jones said. “So the idea behind it is to try and improve the diet of our students and make them healthier."

However, Jones said it hasn't necessarily worked as planned.

"We can't find the products that they'll want to buy, therefore they'll go out to Dutch Bros. and McDonalds and Taco Bell and eat there instead," she said.

Nutrition Services Director Dawn Trumbull at Richland High School echoed the same message.

“It has been effective, for what we can sell on sight. It is not effective for what they can run to the store and get,” Trumbull said. “I do believe that students are more aware of what they are consuming compared to 5 or 10 years ago.”

Since the Smart Snacks in School Program was implemented in 2014, Jones said the once popular student store has now dropped sales by 80 percent.

"It's definitely brought awareness to the issue, but I think we're a long way from solving the problem,” Jones added.

She'd like to see more realistic guidelines to hopefully keep students at school, making better eating choices than going through the drive-thru.

Health experts said parents also play an important role in this battle against the bulge.

"Think about your own cupboards and what you're offering your kids," Ellings said.

Washington's future depends on the health of its children. To learn more about efforts to support healthy eating and drinking in schools, check out the Healthiest Next Generation Initiative.

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