The Extent to Which School District Competitive Food and Beverage Policies Align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update nutrition standards for competitive foods in schools—those sold or served outside of school meal programs. At minimum, these standards must align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) which recommend eating nutrient-dense foods and beverages and limiting foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium.

This study examines the degree to which school districts have specific and required limits already meeting DGA recommendations, using information from the annual, nationwide evaluation of written wellness policies conducted by Bridging the Gap. Written policies from a nationally representative sample of 622 districts across 37 of the 38 contiguous states were collected for the 2009–2010 school year.

Key Findings:

  • School districts more often adopt competitive food and beverage policies at the elementary level, followed by the middle, then high school level.
  • Fewer than 5 percent of all districts nationwide had policies for competitive foods that met or exceeded all the specific DGA-recommended nutrient requirements.
  • School district policies most commonly addressed the fat content of snack foods.
  • Forty-three percent of policies at the elementary and middle school levels, and 35 percent of policies at the high school level, prohibited regular soda sales.

This study provides important baseline information for USDA as it updates nationwide standards for competitive foods and beverages in school.