Nutrition

Trump administration loosens Obama-era school lunch requirements

In a move to roll back former first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch initiative, the Trump administration unveiled a rule on Monday to eliminate some of the nutritional standards currently set in place. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said schools will no longer have to try so hard to cut the salt in students’ meals or work in whole grains and non-fat milk.

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said while visiting a school in Leesburg, Virginia.

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The announcement is the first major move from Perdue, and complies with pleas from school nutrition directors who decried many of the standards under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. In particular, they argued for changes to the act’s whole grain and sodium requirements, saying it was hard to find foods that kids would eat under those standards.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot of parents, students and food service professionals about how we can do better in this role,” said Perdue, according to U.S. News & World Report.  “These changes are not undertaken lightly.”

The act, which was part of the former first lady’s broader Let’s Move Campaign, targeted federally subsidized school meals, and had increased requirements for serving sizes and nutrition standards. Schools were required to offer only fat-free or low-fat milk, limit calories based on students’ ages, and cut down on saturated fat, trans fats and sodium among other things.

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The Trump administration had signaled that changes were coming in January, when a document released by the office of Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., called for repealing aspects of the act. The details were part of a broader plan released by Meadows tilted, “First 100 Days: Rules, Regulations, and Executive Orders to Examine, Revoke and Issue,” which called for the administration to reverse nearly 200 rules and regulations.

“The regulations have proven to be burdensome and unworkable for schools to implement,” a related report from the House Freedom Caucus read. “Schools are throwing food away that students are not eating.”

Not all were opposed to Obama’s initiative, as a Christian Science Monitor report published in January 2017 in JAMA Pediatrics found an increase in six nutrients among students who had been served the federally regulated lunches.

“It’s discouraging that just days into his tenure, one of the first things that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will do is to roll back progress on the quality of the meals served to America’s children,” Margo Woota, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement, according to U.S. News & World Report.

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“Ninety percent of American kids eat too much sodium every day,” Woota said. “Schools have been moving in the right direction, so it makes no sense to freeze that progress in its tracks — and allow dangerous high levels of salt in school lunch.”

However, a report published in August 2015 by researchers at the University of Vermont found that even though students added more fruits and vegetables to their plates, “children consumed fewer [fruits and vegetables], and wasted more during the school year immediately following implementation of the USDA rule.” The report noted that average waste increased from a quarter cup to more than one-third of a cup per tray.

In addition to Perdue’s announcement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would postpone its rule for calorie labels on restaurant menus and grocery store displays that were set to go into effect this week. The law was part of the 2010 health care overhaul, and required restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food.

Supermarkets and other businesses opposed to the rules said they are burdensome. The FDA said the delay will allow for “further consideration” of ways to reduce costs or make the rules more flexible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.