American Heart Association says proposed USDA rule on school food would be detrimental

American Heart Association strongly opposes proposed rollbacks to national school lunch and school breakfast programs

News Release, American Heart Association

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2020 — The American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health, issued the following statement in response to USDA’s proposed rule “Simplifying Meal Service and Monitoring Requirements in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs (NSLP/SLB).” 

“We are extremely disappointed that the USDA is once again rolling back nutrition standards in our schools. First, the Trump administration weakened requirements for sodium and whole grains, and now these proposed changes would allow schools to serve fewer fruits and grains, a smaller variety of vegetables, and less healthy entrees that aren’t part of a balanced meal. These changes are unnecessary and put children’s health at risk.

“Since school nutrition standards were updated in 2012, students have been eating healthier foods at schools. More than 99% of participating schools meet the current standards and data from the USDA show that the healthiest meals have the highest participation rates. Instead of building on this success, the proposed rule would put less healthy food on children’s plates.

“We adamantly oppose this rule and are particularly concerned about the following aspects of this proposal:

  • Reducing the amount of fruit required at breakfast for meals served outside the cafeteria.  Schools could now provide as little as a half cup of fruit, a 50% reduction from current requirements.
  • Removing the requirement that schools serve grains at breakfast.  Schools could now meet the standards by serving a meat and no grain product.
  • Changing the vegetable subgroup requirements so that schools are no longer required to serve as many red and orange vegetables and legumes. Instead, schools could serve more potatoes and other starchy, often fried, vegetables.
  • Allowing entrees currently served as part of the weekly reimbursable meal program to be served on their own nearly every day of the week, eliminating the requirement that these items meet the strong a-la-carte standards for individual food items. While entrees and side dishes sold as part of the reimbursable meal are required to meet the school meal nutrition standards, these standards are averaged across the weekly menu. This gives schools the flexibility to occasionally serve food that does not meet nutrition standards on its own but is balanced by healthier sides. If these foods are allowed to be sold more frequently in a-la-carte, there is no requirement that children select a balanced meal. Children could, for example, purchase three slices of pizza in the a-la-carte line instead of purchasing a nutritionally balanced, reimbursable lunch that contains a slice of pizza, salad, and fruit.

“While the USDA claims these changes are necessary to mitigate food waste, studies show that food waste has either remained the same or decreased since the updated school nutrition standards. There are several other effective strategies to reduce food waste in schools, such as giving students more time to eat; putting recess before lunch; marketing healthy foods to kids, and involving students in meal planning, none of which jeopardizes the health of our children.

“Healthy school meals help combat childhood obesity and poor cardiovascular health, but they also help establish a foundation for a lifetime of healthy behaviors. Healthy school foods also help children perform better in school and set them up for success. This proposed rule would be detrimental to the long-term health of our children and erase years of progress in child nutrition in our country.

“It is shocking that the USDA has decided to once again put the health of our children at risk. We will be carefully reviewing this proposal and providing comments.”

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