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USDA’s Final Rule on Nutrition Standards May Be a Nutritional Step Backward

Statement attributed to James D. Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center  

The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) is disappointed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a final rule last week that rolls back certain important aspects of the current school meal nutrition standards and significantly unravels progress made under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The Act ensures the nearly 30 million children who eat school lunch and the 14.4 million who eat school breakfast have the nutrition they need for their health and learning.

The rule ignores these benefits as well as the voices of more than 80,000 individuals and organizations, including FRAC, who urged the USDA to maintain the current, evidence-based nutrition standards. The majority of school districts are fully and successfully meeting the current nutrition requirements; this is not a time for rolling back the standards.

See the differences between the interim rule, released November 29, 2017, and the final rule, released December 6, 2018.

During the public comment period of the interim rule, 96 percent of commenters opposed changes to the nutrition standards, stating that such “flexibilities are not needed” because there is already “widespread compliance with existing standards.”

Despite the science and the overwhelming public comments, the final rule goes further than the interim in scaling back whole-grain requirements by reducing the current standard that 100 percent of all grains served in school meals are whole-grain-rich to only 50 percent. The final rule also delays the requirement to further lower sodium levels in school meals.

School meals should be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including serving whole-grain foods and limiting sodium and saturated fat. This is especially important because most American children, especially low-income children, do not consume enough fiber and whole grains, and consume too much sodium and fat. In addition, a number of research studies have examined the positive impact of the relatively new school meal nutrition standards on school food offerings, school meal disparities, and student nutrition-related outcomes.

By limiting the whole grain requirement and delaying the requirement to further lower sodium levels in school meals, USDA puts the health and learning of our nation’s children at risk.

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