USDA Proposes New Nutrition Standards for School Meals

Officials are sounding the alarm on unhealthy school lunches.

For context: As part of USDA-administered programs, 29.6M school-age children eat lunches and 15.3M eat breakfasts provided by public schools each day.

For many—and especially low-income children—it’s the healthiest meal they’ll eat in a day.

But, during the pandemic, nutritional policies were relaxed to account for supply chain difficulties, with some 88% of program directors still unable to secure food that met previous guidelines.

The latest: By 2024, the USDA will begin implementing strict protocols to limit the amount of sugar and sodium in school breakfasts and lunches — an intervention hoping to curb childhood obesity and other diet-related illnesses.

It’s in response to an internal report that found most school-provided foods exceed the recommended 10% threshold for calories from added sugar.

  • 92% of school breakfasts and 69% of school lunches violate the guideline.
  • Six of 10 a la carte breakfast choices have over 10% in added sugar.
  • Of the top 10 items sold in school vending machines, between 22% and 72% of calories are from added sugars.

Between the lines: Ultra-processed, sugar-laden food is killing us. Perhaps the most susceptible to their health impacts are those that know no better or have no alternative — kids.

In terms of solutions, eating less salt and sugar and more whole fruits, vegetables, and grains shouldn’t be that difficult. And, according to a recent study, students who eat nutritious school meals greatly benefit, reducing overweight and obesity while improving academic performance.

But, thanks to some conflicts of interest in the food industry, progress to get up to standard has been stifled.

Looking ahead: This news comes as the AAP/FDA allow obesity drugs for kids, perpetuating the reactive policies on our youth.

While food-as-medicine programs are proving effective for treating and reversing diet-related diseases, serving real food as food to children should be an immediate priority alongside gym class, youth sports, limiting predatory Big Food practices, and addressing food insecurity.

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