- A court filing this week by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman says states can’t sue over changes to the federally funded National School Lunch Program, even though state leaders fear it could trigger health problems that would lead to more spending for treatment down the road, Reuters reported.
- A group of states, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, sued U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue over changes to school the lunch program. New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia participated in the suit.
- The suit alleges that Perdue ignored dietary guidelines and scientific research by relaxing the school lunch guidelines and allowing for more sodium and fewer whole grains in the meals. The previous, more stringent rules were championed by former first lady Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama made it one of her missions to focus on school nutrition and fitness through her Let’s Move! campaign. As part of that effort, she championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to push schools to serve healthier foods and reduce the costs of lunches for low-income students. That meant reducing the amount of sodium, sugar and fat in food sold at schools, requiring more whole grains and fruits and vegetables and prohibiting whole milk and low-fat flavored milk.
The intention was to help battle childhood obesity. Unfortunately, the result meant that many of the foods served at school were less appetizing to students. In 2014, the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama circulated with pictures of unsavory-looking meals. But advocates of the changes posted pictures of brightly colored, well-packaged fruits and vegetables and protein snack packs that showed how to make healthy eating enjoyable.
The Trump administration did not cancel the act, but has relaxed some of the rules. It allows school lunch operators to provide low-fat flavored milk, now requires that half of the weekly grains in school lunch and breakfasts be “whole-grain rich,” and will allow for a more gradual sodium reduction.
Easing up on the strict changes may address food waste in the long run. Requiring a student to select a fruit or vegetable as part of their lunch does not mean that they will consume it. However, some researchers believe the new school standards did move the needle on the overall quality of students’ diets. The USDA also has said that because of the law, 95% of schools were serving healthier meals.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the government had ruled states can't sue over the changes, rather than filing a court document stating that they could not.