In an effort to combat growing childhood obesity and limit children’s exposure to cancer-causing nitrates, the BBC reports that the Scottish government is banning fruit juice and smoothies in school meals, while limiting the amount of red meat and processed meats that may be served. Scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2020, the changes will also include increased fruit and vegetable servings at lunch.
I was particularly interested in this development because of the Scottish government’s clear recognition that juice—even 100 percent fruit juice—isn’t worthy of its longstanding health halo.
As experts Erika Cheng, Lauren Fiechtner and Aaron Carroll noted in an excellent New York Times op-ed last year, “Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy,” “[F]ruit juices contain limited nutrients and tons of sugar. In fact, one 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is roughly what’s in a can of Coke.” Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a position paper stating that fruit juice “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”
Yet here in America, federal school meal regulations still allow our districts to substitute 100 percent juice for children’s fruit and vegetable requirement, up to half the time. And schools eagerly take advantage of this provision, particularly at breakfast. But even in the lunch line, your child’s fruit or vegetable requirement can be met with a carton of sweet juice—or with frozen desserts like these:
The problem is that federal child nutrition standards are supposed to align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), and the current DGAs permit consuming up to half of one’s daily fruit intake from juice. Those guidelines aren’t due for revision until 2020—at the earliest—and there’s no reason (of which I’m aware) to believe the juice guidance will change.
But even if there were a push to make school meal regulations more stringent than the current DGAs with respect to juice, school food professionals would likely oppose any such move—vociferously. As I explained in a 2015 Civil Eats piece, “Why There’s So Much Sugar in Your Child’s Breakfast,” juice is easy to serve, shelf-stable, and universally popular with children.
That it may be also be a driver of child obesity inevitably gets lost in the discussion.
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