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May 2, 2017

Trump admin relaxes school meal nutrition requirements, delays menu calorie counts

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U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary (USDA) Sonny Perdue on Monday announced that the Trump administration will relax nutrition requirements for school lunches implemented under former President Barack Obama.

The school foods rules, which were championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, have been gradually implemented since 2012. The rules set requirements for school meals' nutritional content. The rules have required schools to increase the amount of whole grains while limiting salt, sugar, fat, and calories in school meals. According to USDA, 97 percent of U.S. schools already are implementing the standards.

Perdue says admin will scale back school nutrition rules

Perdue, who signed a proclamation detailing the changes, said the administration will relax the nutrition rules to provide schools with greater flexibility when it comes to their meal programs. He said the decision "is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals."

 USDA in a release highlighted three main changes:

  • Delay until 2020 requirements that schools further reduce sodium in meals to allow the department to come up with a "long-term solution";
  • Allow schools to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of only nonfat flavored milk; and
  • Allow states to continue to grant schools exemptions from the rules' whole-grain requirements for the 2017-2018 school year if they are having difficulty locating food products that meet the rules' standards.

Purdue said the administration is not rolling back the affected requirements but is trying to give schools more time to comply with the rules. "I want to assure those of you who are concerned that we are reversing nutritional standards—no way," he said, adding, "We're not unwinding or winding back any nutritional standards at all."


Some lawmakers and public health advocates criticized the changes, which they say would roll back standards that are necessary to help fight childhood obesity and boost nutrition for children, especially among those who live in low-income areas, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in a statement said the changes will "roll back much of the progress we have made in the fight against rates of childhood obesity and malnutrition." She added that the changes are "a slippery slope that will completely undermine school breakfast and lunch programs," and urged USDA to "immediately reverse course."

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Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said the changes are not "about flexibility," but about "making kids less healthy." He added, "Just because [Trump] thinks fast food is a balanced meal doesn't mean we should lower our standards for our kids."

Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, in a statement said, "We would not lower standards for reading, writing, and arithmetic just because students found them challenging subjects and we should not do it for school nutrition either."

However, some stakeholders praised the rules.

Michael Rosenberger, executive director for food and child nutrition for the Dallas school district, said the changes allow schools "some flexibility to occasionally serve food that looks like what students would have at home, to try to get more students eating school meals."

Patricia Montague—CEO of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school cafeteria suppliers and managers and has called for the government to loosen the whole grain and sodium rules— in a statement said her group "appreciat[es]" the changes. She said, "We have been wanting flexibility so that schools can serve meals that are both nutritious and palatable."

FDA again delays deadline for menu calorie labeling requirements

In related news, FDA in a rule that will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday has delayed federal requirements that certain food establishments display calorie counts on their menus, Vox reports.

The requirements, which FDA proposed in November 2014, were called for under the Affordable Care Act. They would apply to restaurants with at least 20 locations, as well as vending machines, amusement parks, movie theaters, and prepared foods in grocery and convenience stores intended to feed one individual.

The requirements originally were scheduled to take effect in December 2015. However, FDA has delayed the policy's implementation multiple times. The requirements were scheduled to take effect Friday, but under FDA's new rule are now scheduled to take effect May 7, 2018.

HHS Secretary Tom Price said the requirements in their current form would be "unwise and unhelpful," The Hill reports. He added that FDA is considering ways to make the rules "more flexible and less burdensome" (Etehad, Los Angeles Times, 5/1; Dewey/Balingit, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 5/1; Hobbs, Wall Street Journal, 5/1; Green/Hirschfeld Davis, New York Times, 5/1; Bottemiller Evich, Politico, 5/1; Wheeler, The Hill, 5/1; Belluz, Vox, 5/1; Devaney, The Hill, 5/1; Meyer, USA Today, 5/1).

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