The new legislation hinders many of Michelle Obama's former efforts to combat childhood obesity.
If the Trump administration has anything to do with it, the strict rules surrounding school lunches endorsed by Michelle Obama and implemented during her time as First Lady may be on their way out.
As of Monday, several provisions have already been relaxed.
The new U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, along with Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) announced within a 1,665-page government spending bill that that they had postponed sodium reductions in schools for at least three years. They also stated that it would be once again permissible for schools to serve food products that aren't rich in whole grains, as well as to serve flavored milk.
This new “regulatory flexibility” counteracts several of the former First Lady's efforts to curb childhood obesity, including the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" and her widely-publicized "Let's Move!" campaign.
“This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals. If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition—thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue commented Monday during a visit to Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Virginia.
Currently, school lunches across the country must average sodium levels of less than 1,230 milligrams for elementary schools, 1,360 mg for middle schools, and 1,420 mg for high schools, and these numbers were expected to drop further. On July 1, 2017, schools were to be required to average 935 milligrams for elementary schools, while middle schools were to average 1,035 milligrams and high schools to average 1,080. By July 1, 2022, the next set of reductions were to go into place.
“The policies that Secretary Perdue has declared here today will provide the flexibility to ensure that schools are able to serve nutritious meals that children will actually eat," added Roberts in a statement. "Because that is really what these programs are about: serving meals to hungry children so that they can learn and grow.”
Not everyone's quite as optimistic about adding chocolate milk back onto the menu, though. Cecilia Muñoz, who served as the director of the White House domestic policy council under Obama, pointed out to McClatchy DC that "trend lines in obesity among young children [had begun] to level out," in part due to the more stringent lunch standards. She added that the Obama administration had already made sure to keep their guidelines fairly flexible, and that overall, they were "being implemented successfully."
"It’s going to be interesting what the rationale is going to be for adding more salt to foods," she said. "Or moving away from whole grains to more refined grains."