Health Impact Assessment

National Nutrition Standards for Snack and a la Carte Foods and Beverages

Implementation of strong nutrition standards may have a significant positive impact on student health, and increase participation in school meal programs.

Students often purchase unhealthy snacks and beverages that are not part of the schools’ meal program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to update the nutritional standards for all food and beverages sold in schools. This is essential to helping students maintain a healthy weight, as many students consume these low-nutrient snacks instead of healthier options. Policy recommendations to effectively implement nutritional updates and assist schools in maximizing student health are reviewed.

Stronger policies implemented on snacks, beverages, and a la carte items led to increased school food service revenues due to participation in school meal programs in most cases. This health impact assessment (HIA) found that school districts “would likely not see a decline in revenue” when strong nutrition policies were implemented.

Key Findings:

  • The USDA should establish updated nutritional standards to benefit healthy food choices for students, while helping schools effectively implement the changes.
  • Strong nutrition standards would benefit vulnerable populations (including students in lower-income communities and Black and Hispanic students) who are often more likely to have nutrition-related health issues.

The recommended actions presented in this paper offer maximum health benefits while keeping risks to a minimum.