Despite an increasing need, school meals are getting less healthy in the US

With classes canceled in up to 40 states, schools in the United States are still fulfilling an important need amid the coronavirus lockdown. Many families visit schools every day to get food as they can no longer afford it.

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As on any other school day, all schools are providing meals to families that have to meet the federal nutrition standards. But, instead of working to ensure that the meals remain nutritious, the Trump administration is rolling back healthier standards, health organizations claim.

Back in January, the federal government proposed new rules to allow more pizza, meat, and potatoes in schools instead of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This means replacing standards that have been put in place by Michelle Obama.

The new rules mean schoolchildren could consume an additional eight cups per week of hash browns, french fries, or other potatoes instead of fruit in breakfast and other vegetables in lunch. Trump’s initiative has already been rejected by nearly 60 health organizations.

“These rollbacks fail to put children’s health first, which is the clear goal of school nutrition programs under the statute. If finalized, this rule would jeopardize the progress schools are making to provide healthier food to vulnerable children and [will] decrease the overall healthfulness of school meals,” the Center for Science in the Public (CSPI) said.

A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program found that these proposed changes would adversely affect student’s health and academic performance and that students from low-income families attending schools are most likely to be impacted.

Virtually all schools participating in breakfast and lunch programs have made and are making great progress toward serving healthier meals for participating children with less sodium; more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and fewer sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks.

The current proposed rule undermines such efforts to improve the quality and nutritional value of foods served in schools. The USDA purports that the proposed changes are “customer-focused”; however, the data show that parents and students are in favor of healthier standards.

“Continually weakening the standards does not provide more stability and consistency for schools or industry. On the contrary, it continuously changes the goalposts for school efforts and industry reformulation,” Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for CSPI, said.

This is hardly the Trump administration’s first attempt to weaken school nutrition. It previously rolled back requirements for whole grains and sodium in kids’ meals — moves that are now the subject of two ongoing lawsuits by CSPI and partners and by a group of state attorneys general.

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