Nutritional Experts Advise Against Changes to School Nutrition Standards

Approximately 30 million children receive school-provided lunch–and almost half those receiving breakfast as well–through coordinated efforts and federal partnerships operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA provides these meals to over 99,000 public and nonprofit private schools as well as reimbursement for meals that align with federal nutrition guidelines and standards established in 2010 through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). (Many changes that this policy enforced moved into effect in 2012.) Despite the growing evidence illustrating the positive impacts HHFKA has brought forth, the USDA proposed multiple reforms in January 2020 that reverse these effective nutritional standards.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA)

Notable legislation passed in 2010 that updated nutritional standards for school meals for the first time in three decades, helping ensure every American child has access to essential nutrition required to grow into healthy adults. The HHFKA established boundaries and requirements for food items sold outside of school meal programs (i.e. vending machines, school stores, a la carte) and mandated nutrition standards that result in balanced, healthier meals. In order to meet these requirements and maintain eligibility for federal reimbursement, schools are required to offer more servings of fruits and vegetables, increase whole-grain food options, reduce saturated fat and sodium, and offer only fat-free or low-fat milk to students.

Since enforcement of the act went into effect in 2012, under the updated HHFKA standards, schools across America have reached achievements like:

  • Children eating 16% more vegetables, 23% more fruit, 22 grams less of sugar per day, on average.
  • 99% of participating schools report meeting the healthier meal standards
  • Increased school lunch revenue nearing $200 million in its first year of implementation
  • Reduction in food waste
  • Increased participation in nutrition offerings and education in largest U.S. school districts
  • Higher nutritional quality in school-provided meals compared with meals brought from home

Recently, the Healthy Eating Research group conducted an expansive review of current literature and expert input to produce the Rapid Health Impact Assessment. This assessment details potential impacts that the USDA’s recommended changes will have on the nutritional health of U.S. children as well as the potential reversal of positive benefits from the last 8 years of implementation it may impose. Nutritional experts and policy makers are advocating on behalf of U.S. children and school districts by informing federal regulators about resulting long- and short term- impacts from such changes, in the hopes of preventing weakened nutritional standards from being enacted.

To view the full report, visit Healthy Eating Research.

Note: These news briefs are meant to be an informative service and do not signify UNE’s endorsement of any organization, product, or service.

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