School Nutrition Waivers and Funding Restrictions in House Spending Bill Harms Children’s Health

Published Jun 18, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 16, 2015) – The House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture released draft legislation to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including school meals, this month. Legislators are again using this legislation to delay progress on healthier school meals by extending waivers for schools on whole grain standards and barring spending on efforts to reduce sodium levels. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, healthier school lunches are an important part of reducing childhood obesity rates, which have tripled in the past 30 years. These delays in improving school lunch standards will ultimately harm the health of the nation’s children.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support, aligning school meals with science-based nutrition standards. The law successfully puts more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less salt and fat, on student’s lunch trays.

Rather than roll back the standards through politically motivated waivers and spending restrictions, Congress should respect the science-based process they designated, uphold the higher standards and increase funding to programs that support preparing and serving nutritious meals in schools.

Earlier this year, UCS released a report, “Lessons from the Lunchroom,” analyzing the eating behaviors of thousands of children nationwide and found that children participating in the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers not participating in the program.

Below is a statement by Daniel Brito, senior Washington representative with UCS’s Food & Environment Program:

“Healthier school nutrition standards are working. About 95 percent of schools have successfully implemented the new standards. Ninety-one percent of parents overwhelmingly support serving kids more fruits and vegetables. And UCS found that children are eating more fruits and vegetables at school because of the new standards.

“In addition to increasing servings of fruits and vegetables, the higher nutrition standards raise the bar for whole grain content and reduce the amount of sodium in school meals. The proposed legislation attempts to chip away at these standards, starting with a waiver that allows schools to bypass the higher standards on whole grains.Whole grains are an important part of the school lunch equation because their higher fiber content leaves children feeling fuller longer. 

“The benefits of whole grains are clear, and decisions on the sodium issue should be made within the transparent, science-based process that created these standards, and not within a proverbial smoke-filled room.

“School meals are a healthy-food lifeline for children in low-income families. For many students, this is the only balanced meal they receive all day. Given the serious and long-term health consequences of childhood obesity, children need the most nutritious meals possible at school to compensate for the glut of unhealthy foods many eat outside of school.

“Congress should not be allowed to pick and choose which scientifically based standards to implement. It is important that Congress respect the process they created to implement meal standards, which are consistent with the latest nutritional science. 

 “The bottom line is that kids get enough junk food outside of school. Our taxpayer dollars should support that help promote learning and introduce kids to a broad variety of healthy foods. If Congress values the health of the nation’s children, then it will reject this draft and instead stand up for nutritious schools meals that help our children grow up healthy.”