Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture blasted out a glowing blog entry extolling the new “flexibility” in school meals. For the uninitiated, “flexibility” is press office doublespeak for the agency’s recent reversal of science-based nutrition standards with respect to sodium, whole grains, and the fat content in flavored milk.
According to the USDA’s post and prior comments from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, sacrificing nutrition at the expense of children’s health was a necessary step to cut down on plate waste and make school meals appealing to kids. But a new, excellent article by Rachel Kogan in Health Affairs debunks those justifications, along with many other arguments advanced by the School Nutrition Association in its years-long quest to undercut the school meal rules it once supported.
In “Rollbacks of Nutrition Standards Not Supported by Evidence,” Kogan systematically examines whether the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act’s original nutrition standards really have resulted in increased plate waste, untenable costs for school districts, and decreases in student participation. On all counts, her answer is “no.”
I only have one quibble with Kogan’s piece, which is her argument that the processed food industry—very much in bed with the SNA—has been a driving force behind the organization’s push for nutrition roll-backs. As regular TLT readers know, I’ve never been convinced that’s the case, particularly after I read this 2015 piece by Politico‘s Helena Bottemiller Evich, which found that the industry had already conformed its products to the new standards at considerable expense and wasn’t pushing for their reversal.
Otherwise, though, Kogan’s piece reminds me of the work of my late mentor and friend Dana Woldow—the highest compliment I can bestow—for its cogent arguments and thorough attention to detail. I encourage you to take the time to read it.
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