In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, mandating less fat, sugar and sodium and more whole grains, vegetables and fruits in school meals for U. S. students. The first wave of rules took effect in 2012 and the second wave, including new rules for breakfasts, took effect in July 2014. The Act’s rules are enforced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the school lunch program.
The rules are apparently producing mixed result. While experts in school nutrition still back the rules, a large group of students are “voting with their feet” by walking away from the new, improved lunches. According to the School Nutrition Association, which represents school cafeteria workers, daily school lunch participation regularly increased for decades but then dropped by 1+million students after the Act’s rules took effect in 2012. As the Association’s spokesperson stated, “How can we call these standards a success when they are driving students away from the program?” Furthermore, the Association claims that some school districts are losing money due to students’ refusal to buy the lunches. Finally, some critics of the Act claim that many districts will not be ready to implement the second wave of rules for the 2014 – 2015 school year.
As a result of the Association’s concerns and some district’s financial losses, an appropriations bill before the House of Representatives regarding USDA funding for 2015 attempts to temporarily relieve some districts of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The bill includes a provision allowing school districts that are losing money to apply for a compliance waiver, allowing them to avoid the Act’s requirements for a year.
Critics of the School Nutrition Association and of the House Bill claim that the complaints about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act are backed by the food industry, which must spend millions to bring their foods into compliance and that they are attempting to lower nutrition standards that are scientifically sound and are being met by 90% of schools. The battle of “sound nutrition” v. “these standards just aren’t working” is expected to continue through the summer of 2014.
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