PRESS EDIORIAL: School food is too healthy, so pass the fries

School lunches are too healthy.

That is a problem, according to the Trump administration, and it needs to be solved by serving students fewer fruits and vegetables and more burgers, fries and pizza.

That is nonsense, of course, but not unexpected nonsense. The sensible nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts that the U.S. Agriculture Department now wants to weaken were the signature achievement of former first lady Michelle Obama. President Trump has made it clear he is on a mission to erase as many of the policies and regulations enacted during his predecessor’s administration as possible.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement claiming less stringent rules for the quality of food served at schools are needed because current healthy-meal standards are resulting in too much wasted food. That may sound better than saying children’s nutrition is being compromised to score another hit against an Obama-era rule, but it turns out the statement is not true.

Perdue’s own USDA conducted what it called a “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study” in 2019 and found that compliance with the nutrition rules resulted in no increase in food waste. What’s more, it also found that student participation in meal programs actually increased after the rules were adopted.

No study is needed to know that the school meal regulations set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act spearheaded by Michelle Obama in 2010 are good for the health of a kids. The legislation was based on guidance provided by a panel of nutrition scientists organized by the Institute of Medicine. The panel recommended school-meal standards giving children more fruit, vegetables and whole grains every day and overall portion sizes that maintain a healthy body weight. This is common sense health advice.

Nonetheless, those standards were fought by food industry interests, most aggressively by the potato lobby, which is now supporting the Trump administration’s proposal to rewrite school food rules to reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables and allow more pastries and, of course, French fries.

These changes are in addition to revisions made by the Trump USDA in 2018 to allow more sodium and less whole grain in school meals.

Thirty million students at 99,000 schools in the U.S. eat school food. Providing those meals is a challenge for school districts, whether they staff their own food service operations, as does the Port Washington-Saukville School District, or outsource the program to private contractors, as is the case in several Ozaukee County districts. Student participation is encouraged because this helps fund the programs, which is an incentive to serve popular food—like pizza and burgers. Federal rules are needed to enforce a balance between appealing but less nutritious food and healthier offerings.

A member of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Duke University global health professor Mary Story, said that by weakening school meal standards the administration “is going against their own findings from their study which show that the updates in nutrition standards have had a positive and significant effect. This makes absolutely no sense. Politics and industry pressure should not interfere with what is best for children’s health.”

Most parents would surely agree, but it seems they may have to, as Michelle Obama urged in her effort to make school food healthier, “fight until the bitter end to make sure that every kid in this country has the best nutrition they can have in school.”

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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