USDA Chief Rolls Back Progress in Nutrition Standards for School Lunches

WASHINGTONOnly one week after his confirmation as secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue announced Monday that the Trump administration will roll back the health-protective nutrition standards for school meals championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Perdue said the Department of Agriculture will slow the implementation of standards that require schools to lower the sodium content and increase the amount of whole grains in the breakfasts and lunches served to 31 million children. The Obama administration launched the initiative in 2012 to help reduce the childhood obesity epidemic among millions of American school children, but Perdue said schools will now have until 2020 to meet the guidelines.  

In announcing the rollback of the standards, Perdue said schools should give students more of what they like to eat. “We have to balance sodium and whole grain content with palatability," he said. But EWG President Ken Cook pointed out that what kids want isn't always what's good for them.

“Just because children would rather eat heavily salted, processed foods at school doesn’t mean they should,” Cook said. “The president's fondness for Big Macs and KFC is well known, but we shouldn't let Colonel Sanders and McDonald's run the school cafeteria."

Efforts to reduce sodium intake began in 1969, yet the amount of sodium consumed by teens through food continues to rise in a country where 1 in 5 teen boys have higher than normal blood pressure. 

“We can continue to kick the can down the road at the behest of the food industry, which always claims it needs more time to make food healthier," Cook said. "But these kids are growing up now, and just as school prepares them for a career, they need healthy and nutritious food for a healthy life." 

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