The junk food sold to American children through school vending machines has long been a source of conflict for education reformers and parent advocates, not to mention the health policy people. But the policies for school vending machines haven’t changed since the 1970s. While the Ford-era rules forbid “foods of minimal nutritional value,” that wasn’t much of a limit. It kept out only stuff like hard candy and Pixy Stix and sugared sodas. Candy bars and snack cakes were still permitted.

Thanks to new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday more stringent junk food policies go into effect in the 2014-15 school year. But will it make any dent in the lard-ass trend we’ve been seeing in children in recent years? Don’t bet on it.

According to Education Week, in the 2014-15 school year:

  • All snacks and vending machine foods must be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food, whole-grain-rich or a combination food that includes at least a quarter cup of fruits or vegetables.
  • Any snack or side dish would be limited to 200 calories. Entrées sold individually would be limited to 350 calories
  • Snacks could have no more than 230 milligrams of sodium, and that cap would drop to 200 milligrams of sodium for the 2016-17 school year. Entrée items must have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium, unless these items are already part of regular school meals.
  • Items can get no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat. Trans fats are banned. There are exceptions to the fat limits on some items, such as reduced-fat cheeses and nuts.
  • Total sugar must be no more than 35 percent by weight, with exemptions for dried fruits or vegetables.

Some see this as an important step in making American kids skinner. First Lady Michelle Obama said said that she’s “so excited that schools will now be offering healthier choices to students and reinforcing the work we do at home to help our kids stay healthy.” Jennifer Budd writes that “Finally, the federal government is getting serious about conquering childhood obesity.”

Well it’s doing something anyway. I suppose the Byzantine rules are a step in the right direction and certainly no one’s going to be hurt by them. It is worth pointing out, however, that snack foods (even the fancy “healthy” kind you can buy at Whole Foods and stuff) are not actually a necessity in life. It’s not like American students in the 1940s, before school vending machines were ubiquitous, were all fainting away to a lack of convenient snack options.

As anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight knows, the secret to shedding pounds doesn’t have much to do with replacing Doritos with “reduced-fat cheeses and nuts.” It’s the snacking itself that’s a problem. If we were really serious about combatting childhood obesity we wouldn’t have vending machines in schools at all.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer