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USDA Rolls Back Michelle Obama’s School Lunch Regulations, Allowing More Salt and Fat

By Maura Hohman, People

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another step to eliminate the regulations placed on school lunches during the Obama administration.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press release on Thursday that a new and final rule will “empower local schools with additional options to serve healthy and appealing meals.”

According to the USDA website, the rule will focus on three aspects of the regulations initially championed by Michelle Obama in the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The act reduced school lunch calorie maximums, cut sodium and trans fat, and required more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Reuters reports.

Delivering on a promise first made in May 2017, the new rule will be published in its entirety on Dec. 12.

First, the new rule would allow schools to serve low-fat, flavored milk — previously only fat-free milk could be flavored — and require only half the grains served to be whole. Before, it was required that all be whole. In addition, it will give administrators more time to lower the amount of sodium in its daily food options. Schools won’t ever have to meet the target proposed under Obama, and they won’t have to hit the metric that preceded it until 2025.

Explaining that the regulations have challenged schools, Perdue said in a statement: “If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted … We will continue to listen to schools, and make common-sense changes as needed, to ensure they can meet the needs of their students based on their real-world experience in local communities.”

The School Nutrition Association, which speaks for school nutrition officials, told National Public Radio that the changes could have positive effects. Since the Obama regulations took effect, some 2 million children have stopped participating in federal school lunch program, which serves low-income families.

“This rule will entice more students to eat healthy school meals, which meet calorie limits and offer fruits, vegetables and milk,” SNA President Gay Anderson said in a statement.

But NPR also reports that pediatric nutrition experts are deeply worried. The change to sodium levels is particularly troubling to Margo Wootan, Vice President of Nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“This will mean that school lunches will fail to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as is required by law,” she told the outlet in a statement.

According to NPR, American kids eat about 3,387 mg of sodium daily, considerably more than the 2,300-mg limit recommended by federal dietary guidelines. Too much sodium can increase risk of heart disease.

In fact, even the American Heart Association took issue with Perdue’s stance, writing in a statement: “When it comes to our children’s health, there should be no ‘flexibility.’ Failing to meet the science-based sodium standards for school meals originally adopted by USDA will put kids’ health in jeopardy.”

Reuters also reports that children’s health experts expressed concern with the changes, which will affect about 30 million kids daily.

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