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Once again, the Trump administration is going after school nutrition guidelines.
A USDA proposal brought forth on Nov. 25, 2020, would allow flavored, low-fat milk, cut whole grain-rich servings in half, and ease restrictions on sodium to enable nutrition directors more time to meet sodium reduction targets.
This isn’t the first time the administration has tried to weaken school food nutrition.
Just a few months ago, the U.S. Agriculture Department sought to ease restrictions on sodium and whole-grain requirements in school meals, but a federal district judge struck it down due to violations of regulatory law, according to The New York Times.
The proposed rule is open for public comment until Dec. 28, 2020.
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For the health of Latino and all children, I urge the USDA to preserve strong nutrition standards for meals served in schools. Providing “flexibility” by permitting schools to serve sugary flavored milks, unhealthy refined grains, and high-sodium foods is a step back on the progress already made in promoting a healthier lifestyle, a healthy weight, and overall health equity. About 1 in 3 Latino families live in poverty and 1 in 4 are food insecure. They face unhealthy food environments, according to a Salud America! research review (http://salud.to/foodres). For many kids, school is their only chance to get a well-balanced meal. That’s why I urge you now to keep the bar high when it comes to serving nutritious food in schools across America and not reduce the nutritional quality of school food.
The deadline for comments is December 28, 2020.
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USDA’s Rationale for School Food Changes
The administration wants to cut back on nutrition guidelines because they say it will add flexibility to the nutrition plan.
“The Trump administration claims [the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010] constraints are unappealing to students and difficult for school administrators to follow,” according to Food Tank.
The USDA also indicates that because students don’t like the food guidelines, they refuse to eat the food and excessive food waste is created.
However, the USDA released a report that showed the opposite.
“A 2019 USDA study concludes that the nutritional value of lunches spiked 40 percent between 2009 and 2015 under HHFKA guidelines. During that time, children ate more whole grains, greens, and beans, and less refined grains, empty calories, and sodium. Food waste did not appear to increase,” according to Food Tank.
Opposition to the Proposed School Food Rules
Several healthy food organizations have voiced their disapproval of the USDA proposal.
Urban School Food Alliance and the Center for Science in the Public Interest say the proposal disregards scientific and dietary guidelines.
[USDA] is trying to make it as difficult as possible to ensure that school meals meet science-based nutrition standards,” said Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, according to The Counter.
They point to the successful data from the USDA study that indicates the existing nutrition guidelines are working.
Urban School Food Alliance also argues that most children in schools have grown up with the Obama-era nutrition guidelines in place and don’t know any different. But even if they did prefer the unhealthier foods, that shouldn’t be the reason why guidelines are changed.
“I think if we continue to hide behind that, we give people an excuse to not do better,” said Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, according to Food Tank.