Obama-Era Nutrition Guidelines Put on Ice

WASHINGTON (CN) – Rolling back Obama-era nutrition guidelines for school-lunch programs, the Trump administration moved to keep calorie-count displays largely optional until at least next year, and health initiatives by the former first lady are also on the chopping block.  

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the changes as part of a series of shakeups designed to scrap several requirements connected to the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

Part of former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” health and wellness campaign, the legislation brought tougher nutritional standards to schools during the latter half of the last administration. The more than 30 million students who receive a subsidized lunch program at their schools saw a reduction in calories, fat and sodium-serving levels, while healthier offerings like whole-grain foods and nonfat milk became more available. 

Reshelving these initiatives, the Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it would delay a requirement to lower sodium levels in school meals and would continue to permit waivers on grain policies, which state that at least half of all grains on the lunch line be whole grain.

The FDA said it has also eased skim or nonfat milk requirements: Schools can now serve students 1 percent flavored or sweetened milk, previously forbidden under the old rules.

Kumar Chandran, policy director at FoodCorps — an offshoot of the federal initiative AmeriCorps, which encourages community service work – said the deregulation wave isn’t in the interest of children or students, nor does it reflect the efficacy of nutritional science. 

“Offering school meals that are higher in refined grains, higher in salt, and sweetened with more added sugars is not the answer to an obesity epidemic that already costs our nation’s economy $1.4 trillion a year,” Chandran said in a statement. “We know it isn’t easy, but with over 99 percent of schools meeting the standards, we also know it is possible. Rather than relaxing standards, we should continue to build on the progress that has been achieved and support schools to continue to make healthy changes.” 

Also this week, the FDA announced its intentions to delay enforcement of a provision of the federal health care law that forces restaurants and other food distributors to display calorie labels on their menus and signage. 

The menu-labeling mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act faced two delays previously. While it encourages a healthy awareness of consumption, the rule also applies to certain grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and sports arenas, which can serve a wide variety of prepared foods of various portion sizes, making following the rule somewhat more challenging than a standard restaurant whose menus stay consistent. 

Restaurants and other businesses now have until May 2018 to comply with the labeling rule in full. 

Among several other Obama-era nutrition regulations that remain in place is a requirement for children to take at least one fruit or vegetable serving from the lunch line at school. 

While visiting a school in Loudon County, Virginia, this week, Agriculture Secretary Perdue said he wanted to see more “palatable” meals served to children, so that less food would be wasted. Perdue told reporters who joined him during his visit to Catoctin Elementary that he didn’t see the changes as a rollback but as a “slow down” of the regulation process. 

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