The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics applauds new changes by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that aim to lower obesity rates, improve educational achievements and reduce health-care costs.

In calling for healthier standards for all foods sold in schools, the USDA has set healthier requirements for foods sold a la carte, in school stores, snack bars and vending machines starting in Fall 2014.

Under the USDA's "Smart Snacks in Schools" nutrition standards interim final rule, foods must be low in fat, sugar and sodium and provide kids more of the nutrients they need. Schools will also be required to serve more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean protein.

"The Academy applauds the USDA for bagging junk food in schools," said registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Debbi Beauvais. "USDA is to be commended for putting forth these nutrition standards."

This past spring, the Academy worked with its member experts to comment on USDA's proposed nutrition standards for school snacks, encouraging a school environment that provides access to healthy foods. The USDA's "Smart Snack in Schools" rule implements strong, scientifically sound nutritional standards and reflects recommendations from the Academy's nutrition experts.

"Research shows unhealthy food and beverages sold in schools other than at meals negatively affect students' diet and weight. The Academy is in favor of all foods sold in schools having a positive nutritional benefit and modeling food choices children should make outside of the school setting. These USDA standards allow schoolchildren to meet their nutrition needs by consuming nutrient-dense foods," said Beauvais, a school nutrition professional for more than 14 years.

"As an organization committed to improving the nation's health through food and nutrition, the Academy will serve in many different capacities to assist the USDA in successfully implementing the standards," Beauvais said.

"Academy members are among those already bringing real change to school meals across America, with many registered dietitian nutritionists employed in child nutrition programs at the local, state and national levels as researchers, educators, product suppliers, school nutrition directors and consultants in school nutrition and wellness," Beauvais said.

The Academy will continue to support these members as the nutrition standards are implemented. Additionally, the USDA promises to provide schools with the training and technical assistance necessary to seamlessly adopt these new standards.

To champion these new standards, the Academy supports bolstering nutrition education in schools to reinforce healthy behaviors by incorporating healthful eating habits into the curriculum, in health education courses as well as in language arts, science and mathematics.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has called the new standards a "game changer for our youngsters."