The Trump administration relaxed national school lunch guidelines yesterday, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that school meals would no longer have to meet the requirements previously put in place by former FLOTUS Michelle Obama's initiative to combat childhood obesity. The USDA will instead provide greater flexibility for school meal programs in an effort to make food choices more appealing to students.
"This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals," Perdue explained. "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."
Under Obama's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools have been required to reduce the amount of calories, fat, and sodium in their meals while increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat milk. But starting next year, cafeterias will be able to serve 1 percent milk, postpone reductions in sodium, and request an exemption from the whole-grain requirement.
Why? Because according to USDA figures, the former First Lady's school food requirements were projected to cost $3.2 billion over five years, but already cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in 2015 alone. Meanwhile, most states are reporting that they've seen a decrease in student participation in school lunches since they began complying with the nutrition standards in 2012, with about a million students choosing not to have a school lunch each day.
But not everyone thinks these changes are positive for students. Sally Kuzemchak, Parents' Scoop on Food blogger, says, "As a dietitian and mom I hate to see any of the school food nutrition standards being chipped away. I hope I'm wrong, but my concern is that other rules now in place about food in school, like fruit and vegetable requirements for lunches or nutrition standards for snacks sold in school vending machines, might be vulnerable too." She notes that millions of children depend on school food every day for nourishment. "We need to make sure we all have the children's best interests in mind."
The American Heart Association also denounced the relaxation of the requirements in a statement, saying that more sodium and sugar would increase students' blood pressure and put them at greater risk of heart disease and strokes, Perdue says the new flexibility is not a mandate on the schools—it will simply give them the option of rolling back Mrs. Obama's initiative.
To learn more, check out Secretary Perdue's proclamation.