WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s new Agriculture Secretary, plans to unveil changes to the school food programs today that will roll back regulations imposed on schools at the behest of former first lady Michelle Obama.
Perdue will visit Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Va. with U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kentucky to announce the changes during lunch with students. An announcement on the visit released Friday states the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide “regulatory flexibility” through an “interim rule” to ditch some of the Obama-era regulations, though exactly which rules will be targeted is unclear, NBC News reports.
The announcement comes after years of complaints from students, parents, school officials, nutritionists and others over changes forced on school food programs through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that strictly limit calories, fat, sugar, salt, and other elements of foods served in schools.
Since the regulations went into effect in 2012, more than 1.4 million students dropped out of the National School Lunch Program for the first time in years. Regulations that require all students to take a fruit or vegetable – whether they want it or not – also increased annual school food waste by an estimated $1 billion.
In school districts across the country, students revolted against the changes by mounting social media campaigns for school food boycotts, launched online petitions, created parody videos and relentlessly posted images of their disgusting lunches on social media with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, EAGnews has reported.
“Conservative Republicans have long held concerns about the program’s costs, at times attempting to claw back its associated regulations or allow schools to opt out completely,” according to NBC News. “But the program’s inflexibility has a history as a bipartisan issue.
“A 2016 bill negotiated by Roberts and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, ranking member of the senate agriculture committee, sought to loosen whole grain requirements and extend a deadline to cut school lunch’s sodium levels.”
Proponents of loosening or eliminating the Michelle Obama-inspired regulations include the House Freedom Caucus, the national School Nutrition Association, the Salt Institute, meat producers, potato producers, nutritionists, and many others.
Those opposing the changes include the American Heart Association and many Democrats.
“Improving children’s health should be a top priority for the USDA, and serving more nutritious foods in schools is a clear-cut way to accomplish this goal,” AHA CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement about the anticipated announcement Monday. “Rather than altering the current path forward, we hope the agency focuses more on providing technical assistance that can help schools get across the finish line, if they haven’t done so already.”
Brown contends “99 percent” of schools are currently complying with the school food restrictions, though it’s not clear where the statistic came from.
Others, like University of Vermont nutrition researcher Sarah Amin, actually studied schools in 2015 to determine the impact of Obama-inspired restrictions and concluded they’re not accomplishing their stated goal of getting students to eat healthier foods.
“In our study, we found that requiring them to select a fruit of vegetable under these guidelines might have led the children who were not consuming them in their first place, throwing them out and still continuing not to consume them,” she told the Union-Tribune.
Other studies have shown the nutrition mandates are not based on science, particularly limitations on animal fat and salt.
“People with higher levels of dairy fat in their blood plasma tend to have lower rates of diabetes, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation. Other studies have also pointed to the lack of evidence of harm from dairy fats, and evidence of a cardioprotective effect from dairy fats,” the Union-Tribune reports.