Background: Environmental and policy influences are potentially the most powerful—and yet the least understood—strategies for reversing the current childhood obesity epidemic.
Methods: This essay focuses on the school lunch environment and examines the key legal and policy factors that affect competitive foods or foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV) in schools. The essay also analyzes the latest, proposed federal legislation on redefining competitive foods.
Results: FMNV compete for children’s coins and calories in the school food environment. The emerging scientific record on the negative impact competitive foods have on children’s diet and health is significantly stronger than when Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary first deemed the connection sufficient to take action. The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2006, if enacted, will provide additional authority to the USDA and supply science-based federal guidance to local schools. Opposition to this legislation may come from the local school districts, the food industry, parents, and children.
Conclusions: Defining competitive foods in a federally consistent manner and eliminating competitive foods from our nation’s schools are food fight that will evidently be fought by legislative efforts at the local, state, and federal level. The food industry, as history illustrates, will likely work hard to weaken any regulatory efforts and could potentially demand that this fight end up requiring judicial review.