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Posted: Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008

If it's still chocolate and sweet, will teens eat low-cal snacks?

By Marty Minchin
Published in: Regional News

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Are teenagers ready to trade in a 280-calorie Snickers candy bar for a 150-calorie pack of Snickers cookies?

Union County high school students are helping the Mars candy company find out.

Parkwood, Marvin Ridge and Monroe high schools are taking part in a pilot program for Mars' new “Generation Max” snacks, which are not available outside schools. The program began in September and will end in December. A school district in Nevada is the only other in the pilot program.

The Union high schoolers also buy other lower-calorie snacks, including a Three Musketeers “brownie bar,” M&Ms cookies and Twix cereal clusters. All have 150 calories or fewer.

Denise Lamar, child nutrition supervisor for Union County Schools, said high school students weren't pleased when the schools began removing high-calorie, high-fat ice creams and cookies from the snack menu in anticipation of stricter state nutritional standards.

“You could tell it in our sales,” she said. “They just quit buying (snacks) rather than changing to something else.”

Federal and state school nutritional standards continue to tighten. In Union County high schools, that has meant more health-conscious cooking, offering hummus, fruits and vegetables for snacks and widening food choices to include salads and other healthy foods.

The new Mars snacks fill some of the void left by traditional sweet treats, Lamar said. Students especially like the brownie bar treats. Emily Korns of Mars said that with rising rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, the company no longer markets confectionery snacks to children younger than 12. Company chefs use new ingredients, such as a protein base instead of a sugar base in the brownie bars, to cut fat and calories.

As the year ends, Mars officials will talk with students and staff about how they liked the snacks. Lamar said sales of Generation Max snacks haven't been competitive with popular salty snacks. But the school will continue to sell the Gen Max snack varieties students like best.

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