06/26/2013 11:28 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

The Time Is Now for Smart Snacks in Schools

Moms and dads are the first line of defense when it comes to making sure our children live healthy lives. At home, we do all we can to make sure that the meals and snacks they eat are nutritious, but our children aren't always at home or in our care. It takes a community effort to ensure that kids have healthy options throughout the day to make the best choices possible.

Moms across the country have told us that this is not always an easy task.

"People will say, 'It's just a cupcake -- relax!' But they may not have factored in the M&Ms that my child got from the school bus driver. Or the frosted cookie that Grandma gave him after school. Or the Hershey's kisses that he scored at the bank. Or the Oreos that another mom handed him after hockey practice." ~ Bettye, GA

Sometimes it can feel like our efforts are sabotaged at every turn. More and more we want and need a community effort to support healthier eating habits for our children.

A new poll commissioned by Kaiser Permanente, shows that 90 percent of Americans want K-12 schools to have a role in reducing obesity in their community. In fact, nationwide, 78 percent of parents think that healthier food in schools will increase academic performance.

The USDA has already taken steps to improve school meals, increasing the number of fruits and vegetables children are served daily. And, more than eight in 10 Americans endorse the new national standards. But school stores, vending machines, and a la carte lines offer tempting junk food options that can sabotage the efforts of parents.

Sadly, the current standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools are still 30 years out of date. More than 75 percent of our nation's public elementary school districts don't have limits on the sales of sugary drinks, candy, salty snacks, or high-fat milk. Some parents have taken drastic measures to curb their children's access to the junk food available in schools:

"I have to severely limit my daughter's allowance and opportunities to earn money so she won't have money to buy sugar and junk food. My daughter tells me there is rarely anything healthy, i.e. not fried or cheese or carbs, to buy. Please have the school offer healthy options..." ~Ricky, San Francisco, CA

That's why members were such strong advocates for the USDA's Smart Snacks in Schools rule and joined forces with other concerned parents and advocates to submit more than 250,000 comments in support of the proposed rule.

Now is the time to finalize that rule.

Right now, 40 percent of students buy and eat snack foods at school in a typical day. When schools sell unhealthy snacks and drinks outside of meals, it can cause kids to eat less of their lunch, consume more fat, take in fewer nutrients, and gain weight.

The perils of poor nutrition are great. Type 2 diabetes, which is life altering and can be life threatening, is dangerously high among our children. Worse, the disease progresses more rapidly in children than in adults and is harder to treat. Each and every second counts as we try to defeat this serious and sometimes deadly nutrition related epidemic.

Policies to reduce access to junk food do work. A few years ago, the California state legislature put in place some of the nation's strongest guidelines for snack food sold in schools. A study last year found that following that change, kids ate and drank 158 fewer calories per day. This is great news for moms and dads in California because children who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Parents support these kinds of changes:

"The least we can do now is make sure the foods in the vending machines are healthy choices: fruit, whole grain crackers, yogurt, milk, nuts, etc. There are plenty of individually packaged foods out there that provide good nutrition..."~Barbara, Brownfield, ME members across the country have sent in stories calling for stronger nutrition guidelines. It's time to get junk food out of schools so kids have healthy options and finalizing the Smart Snacks in School rule is an important next step down the path toward having increasingly healthy kids in our nation.