In a reversal, the Obama administration on Thursday announced they would permanently relax unpopular nutrition rules for the federal school lunch program. The rules were intended to fight childhood obesity by lowering calories and portion sizes, but proved wildly unpopular with students and parents throughout the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initially loosened the regulations in late 2012 by suspending daily and weekly portion limits for grains, meat, and meat alternatives — permitting school districts to rejigger portion sizes without federal overrule.
"Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning. We have delivered on that promise," Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement.
The regulatory scheme had drawn protest from not only political conservatives wary of federal oversight but parents and children alike, who complained the lower-calorie meals left children hungry and unsatisfied. In many school across the country, lunches deemed unpalatable by children were thrown uneaten into the trash.
The new rules follow a bill introduced by Senators John Hoeven and Mark Pryor, a Republican from North Dakota and a Democrat from Arkansas, to permanently loosen requirements instituted in 2012 as part of the administration’s focus on the growing problem of childhood obesity and related diseases.
"Today, the USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program," Hoeven said in a statement. "A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements. These are exactly the changes included in our Sensible School Lunch Act."
Although some may see the policy reversal as a failure, administration officials say they see regulatory law as more of an experiment. “We always anticipated that some modifications and other allowances would be required for changes of this size and scope,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote to Hoeven last year, in response to complaints the senator had received from his district. “USDA has asked for, and states and schools have provided us with, valuable feedback. As a result, you should be pleased to know that we have recently moved to allow for additional flexibility in meeting some of the new standards.”
Vilsack said the administrative rule change follows feedback the government received from states and school districts with regard to daily and weekly maximum amounts of specific categories of foods, such as meats. To be sure, the Obama administration has not yielded in the fight against childhood obesity, Vilsack asserted. "This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week."
As American as apple pie, the National School Lunch Program began during World War II with the iconic half-pint boxes of milk arriving at schools in 1954. In fiscal year 2012, the federal government provided funding for more than five billion lunches served to more than 31 million schoolchildren at a total cost of $16 billion. School lunches remain the best opportunity for the government to reach many lower-income children, who are also most at risk of experiencing weight problems or obesity
Several colleagues said that the decline in consumption of fluid milk in schools will continue to be a major issue this year, and will require all of our best efforts to win back milk drinkers among school kids. While retail sales of fluid milk have declined by one and a half to two percent over the past four years, the 2012-2013 school year saw a dramatic drop in consumption when changes to the school meals program limited the choices of milk. This was a larger decline than the past five years combined — and resulted in a loss of 23 million gallons in sales.
Food waste also is a problem, Brown said. Students take the food they are required to put on their cafeteria tray, but they don’t have to eat it. “Although none of the districts we visited had fully analyzed food waste over the past few years to determine if it changed during school year 2012-2013, six of the SFAs we visited told us they believe food waste has increased because of the new lunch requirements."
Brown noted that student participation in the school lunch program decreased in the 2012-2013 school year – another indication that students don’t like the changes. “Most of the SFAs we visited reported that they experienced decreases in lunch participation in school year 2012-2013 in part because of the new lunch requirements,” Brown said.
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She plays on the high school sports teams so she needs the calories. Right after school,
An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students — a captive market — fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.
Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.
Sadly, it is being mismanaged and exploited. About a quarter of the school nutrition program has been privatized, much of it outsourced to food service management giants like Aramark, based in Philadelphia; Sodexo, based in France; and the Chartwells division of the Compass Group, based in Britain. They work in tandem with food manufacturers like the chicken producers Tyson and Pilgrim’s, all of which profit when good food is turned to bad.
Here’s one way it works. The Agriculture Department pays about $1 billion a year for commodities like fresh apples and sweet potatoes, chickens and turkeys. Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.
The Agriculture Department doesn’t track spending to process the food, but school authorities do. The Michigan Department of Education, for example, gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.
I think they need to put real kitchens and real cooks back in schools
In fiscal year 2012, the federal government provided funding for more than five billion lunches served to more than 31 million schoolchildren at a total cost of $16 billion.
Crazy. We've sent our kids to school with lunch in hand their entire lives. I would never rely on a public school to feed my children.
The milk thing pisses me off more than anything....kids especially NEED the milk fat, as recent science shows.
Another study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood in March echoed the JAMA study and showed that children who drank lower-fat milk were more likely to be overweight later in life.
"Our original hypothesis was that children who drank high-fat milk, either whole milk or 2 percent would be heavier because they were consuming more saturated fat calories," author Dr. Mark Daniel DeBoer, an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the chair-elect for the AAP Committee on Nutrition, explained to TIME. "We were really surprised when we looked at the data and it was very clear that within every ethnicity and every socioeconomic strata, that it was actually the opposite, that children who drank skim milk and 1 percent were heavier than those who drank 2 percent and whole."
There’s been controversy brewing over the past decade about just how bad saturated fat is for health. Fueling the debate, in part, has been the resurgence of the Atkins Diet, which eschews carbs but allows liberal use of high-fat foods, including foods high in saturated fat—butter, bacon, steak, cheese, and the like. (20) More recently, several studies seemed to suggest that eating diets high in saturated fat did not raise the risk of heart disease—a finding that ran counter to decades of dietary advice. (21,22) One highly-publicized report analyzed the findings of 21 studies that followed 350,000 people for up to 23 years. Investigators looked at the relationship between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their controversial conclusion: “There is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD.”(21)
With headlines like “Saturated Fat is Not Your Heart’s Enemy,” and “NOT GUILTY: The Long-Standing Vilification of Saturated Fat Finally Turning to Vindication,”(23,24) some of the media and blog coverage of these studies would have you believe that scientists had given a green light to eating bacon, butter, and cheese. But that’s an oversimplified and erroneous interpretation. Read the study and subsequent studies more closely, and the message is more nuanced: Cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. (16,25) Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease. Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. (26)
Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates—white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes, sugary drinks, and the like. Eating refined carbs in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol—but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides.The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat—and perhaps even worse for people who have insulin resistance because they are overweight or inactive. (17,25)