Under changes, proposed by USDA Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps, schools would be allowed to cut the amount of fruit served at breakfast in half, and substitute sweet pastries or granola bars.
The new rules would also let schools replace leafy green vegetables with french fries—nevermind that in addition to being fried in unhealthy oils, because schools aren’t required to source organic potatoes, those fries will come from potatoes drenched in a toxic soup of pesticides.
Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Washington Post that the proposed rules, if finalized, “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”
In other words, the USDA proposes to undermine kids’ health by feeding them junk foods linked to childhood obesity, chronic disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and early death.
Lowering the nutritional standards for school meals could have disastrous implications for children’s health. Some 30 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, and 22 million are from low-income families whose only chance for a healthy meal might be their school lunch.
Studies show that eating an unhealthy diet may cause moderate or severe psychological distress. According to research from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, a diet high in sugar and processed grains is linked to mental health problems such as bipolar disorder and depression.
The changes proposed by the USDA aim to roll back school nutrition standards promoted by Michelle Obama through the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. While Mrs. Obama’s mission wasn’t perfect— she didn’t call for organic, pesticide-free food in school lunches— it was at least a step in the right direction.
Standards promoted by the former first lady required schools to serve fruits and vegetables daily and to offer more whole grain-rich foods and fat-free or low-fat milk (we don’t advocate for low-fat milk, here’s why).
Obama’s requirements also pushed schools to limit calories, and reduce saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
Under Trump’s USDA, schools would be allowed to bring back sugary flavored milk and only half of the grains served weekly would be whole grain-rich. The rules would also give schools more time to reduce the amount of sodium in meals.
The department’s argument for relaxing nutrition standards on school meals is to reduce food waste. The USDA says reports from schools found that students weren’t eating the healthier food and that it was ending up in the trash.
But studies suggest otherwise. One study found students were eating 15 percent more fruits and vegetables. Another study found no change in the amount of food waste.
Eating a healthy diet is especially important for children. Healthy food not only promotes a healthy brain, but nutrition patterns set early in life greatly influence future eating habits and affect the risk of various health problems including mental health issues, heart disease and diabetes.
The push to weaken nutritional standards in school lunches is an assault on children’s health. If taxpayers are going to fund school meals for underprivileged children, those meals need to be healthy. They should include nutrient-rich organic fruits and vegetables, which are proven to contain 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants, compounds that protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer and other health issues.
The USDA should be raising the standards for school meals, not lowering them.