A recent study suggests that while the nutritional quality of snacks sold in schools has improved, many “Smart Snacks” are virtually indistinguishable from less nutritious versions widely sold outside of schools. This practice likely benefits the brands, but may not improve children’s overall diets and undermines schools’ ability to teach good nutrition.
In 2013, the USDA established nutrition standards for competitive foods and beverages sold in schools and designated products that meet these standards as Smart Snacks. However, many brands that offer Smart Snacks for sale in schools continue to advertise and sell their less nutritious products to young people outside of schools and have very similar branding to Smart Snacks.
659 students and 859 parents examined a page with images of 12 snacks explaining that a hypothetical school was considering offering these products for sale to students (image above). They found that students and parents rated look-alike and store versions similarly in taste, healthfulness, and purchase intent, while considering repackaged Smart Snacks as healthier, but less tasty. Students did not believe that even the less nutritious versions of the snacks sold in stores were unhealthy (rating them neutral to somewhat healthy), and look-alike Smart Snacks in schools may worsen this misperception.