USDA applauded for school meal sugar cap proposal though sodium restrictions are still lacking
06 Feb 2023 --- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has, for the first time, proposed limiting the amount of added sugars in school meals following a petition signed by the Center of Science for Public Interest (CSPI) last year to reduce sugars in meals for children. The CSPI says it is happy with the sugar cap initiative while disappointed in the department’s lack of action on sodium reduction.
The standard for school meal nutrition is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and added sugar intake is recommended to equal less than 10% of the daily calorie intake. The CSPI says that school meals must meet this limit by 2027, when the academic year starts.
Before 2027, the USDA proposes limiting highly sugary items such as flavored milk, grain-based desserts, breakfast cereals and yogurts.
“Implementing this will put kids on track to avoid diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. In elementary and middle schools, USDA proposes not to allow flavored milk – the top source of added sugars for meals,” underscores the CSPI.
Different story for sodium
The CSPI details that the USDA’s goals for sugar do not mirror its strategy to reduce sodium.
“We will need to continue to work with USDA, schools, and the food industry to reach sodium levels that are safer for kids. Nor does USDA’s proposal on whole grains align with the Guidelines. USDA should have maintained the 100% whole grain-rich requirement. Instead, the rule stops short at 80%, which could slow or reverse the progress schools and the industry have made to provide more whole grain-rich products,” states the CSPI.
However, the CSPI further details that recent research on foods and milks currently served in schools shows that they already meet the improved nutrition standards. A pre-pandemic study of elementary school meals compared with 2022 found “compliance with nutrition standards being largely maintained,” and in some cases, improved.
“Schools are well on their way to meeting updated standards, and we applaud USDA for providing certainty to schools and industry with a goalpost,” the CSPI declares.
Concluding that Congress needs to increase school meal reimbursement, the CSPI argues that this should lead to free school meals for all children.
“School meals are a lifeline for many children – particularly those from food-insecure families for whom school lunch and breakfast might be their most important source of healthy calories. Healthy kids are better learners and grow up to be healthier adults – and that’s something that Republicans and Democrats alike can get behind,” says the CSPI.
Importance of school meals
Notably, children’s nutrition is an area that has been pushed for and criticized when inadequate actions have been taken.
The CSPI recently criticized the US Congress for failing to include a pathway to free healthy school meals for all students regardless of income level in its stop-gap funding measure.
One example is when the US Inflation Reduction Act “compromised on child nutrition,” according to public interest organizations.
“These investments in school meals are critical to reduce nutrition and food insecurity and mitigate a hunger cliff many children may face as they return to school and the meal program lapses,” Colin Schwartz, deputy director of federal affairs at CSPI, said previously.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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