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Tear down this vending machine: US proposes school snack rules

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Under new rules the Department of Agriculture proposed Friday, school vending machines that once were full of Skittles and Sprite would instead be selling water, lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and baked chips. Lunch rooms that now sell fatty "a la carte" items like mozzarella sticks and nachos would have to transition to healthier pizzas, fruit cups and yogurt.

The rules, required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010, are an effort to combat childhood obesity. While many schools have already made improvements in their lunch menus and vending machine choices, others are still selling high-fat, high-calorie foods.

The USDA is proposing fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in school. Current standards regulate only the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches subsidized by the federal government. Snacks would have to be less than 200 calories, and elementary and middle schools could only sell water, low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. High schools could sell some sports drinks, but the calories would be limited.

"Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The new standards will cover vending machines, "a la carte" lunch lines and any other foods regularly sold around school. The proposed rules would not cover in-school fundraisers or bake sales, though states could decide to individually regulate those. The guidelines do not apply to after-school concessions at school games or theater events, goodies brought from home to celebrate a birthday, or anything a student brings for their own personal consumption.

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