School nutrition at risk

After years of improved nutrition in the nation’s school breakfast and lunch programs, the United States Department of Agriculture is now proposing to loosen the guidelines to allow schools more flexibility in the kinds of vegetables they serve. The federal agency says the proposed rules would help ensure that children get wholesome, tasty meals that they will actually eat.

The implication is that children are not eating the healthier food that was mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. However, the USDA’s own “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study” found that the implementation of the HHFKA has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the nutritional value of school meals and that higher student participation occurs in schools with the healthiest meals. The study also showed that waste remained unchanged.

So why does the USDA feel compelled to tinker with a program that is working? Part of the reason may be that the HHFKA was an Obama administration initiative. More cynical observers have suggested that the potato lobby has played a role, since a temporary rule change released last spring allows schools to swap out fruit for white potatoes.

The USDA proposals, now in the third round of revisions, would allow schools to cut the amount of fruit included in breakfast served outside of the cafeteria from one cup to a half cup. Sweet pastries and granola bars would be permitted to fill the remaining calories and for lunches, the proposal would allow schools to serve potatoes as a vegetable every day and give the flexibility to offer food such as pizza and burgers as a la carte items.

Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said last week that if the proposed rules are finalized it “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burger, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”

Thirty-two percent of our children are considered overweight or obese and the rate of Type 2 diabetes has jumped in recent years. Not only that but according to information from the Department of Pediatrics at U.T. Health San Antonio, the health impacts of the disease are more severe than before.

The proposed changes in the school breakfast and lunch program were entered into the Federal Register last Thursday and will be open for public comment for 60 days. If you believe that school children will choose green beans over fries, then you need do nothing. On the other hand, if you think we should help our kids make better choices in their diets, please sound off on this important issue.



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