Is the government waging war on school bake sales?

Morgan Korn

Updated from Aug. 6

The cherished bake sale will return to school gymnasiums and classrooms this school year, contrary to various reports. But the homemade brownies, cupcakes and Rice Krispies treats that parents prepare for these fundraisers will come under extra scrutiny because of new federal regulations that took effect July 1.

The regulations are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was designed to combat childhood obesity and provide better nutrition in public schools. The act marked the first change to school meals in 15 years and affects 30 million school-age children. The government says the law will bring child nutrition programs in-line with the latest nutritional science and dietary guidelines for Americans. The legislation authorizes funding for the USDA's core child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 puts the USDA in charge of monitoring whether schools meet the new healthy meal standards. School districts will be audited every three years to improve compliance with nutritional standards. The USDA also has the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, school stores and the traditional K-12 bake sale.

Related: Blue Hill’s Dan Barber: The farm-to-table movement has failed

Still, the law leaves it up to each state to determine the number of bake sales and other fundraisers held each year. That has led to a wide variety of policies around the nation. (Correction: An earlier version incorrectly suggested some schools were circumventing federal rules.) 

Georgia State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge and the Georgia State Board of Education decided that each of the state's 2,500 schools could hold 30 fundraisers per year that are food-related and that do not meet the nutrition standards established by federal law. Tennessee, for example, will allow bake sales but for only 30 days per school year. Idaho will limit the number of bake sales to 10 school days, and Illinois will go one step further, knocking the number of bake sale days to nine from 36. Yet some 32 states are choosing to follow the guidelines and will offer low-fat, less salty snacks to students, according to the School Nutrition Association.

Yahoo Finance's Aaron Task and Lauren Lyster discuss the new guidelines in the video above, noting that more bake sales are offering processed, pre-packaged goods because the nutritional contents are clearly labeled.

The percentage of U.S. children aged 6–11 years who are obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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