Washington, D.C. – American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments regarding the USDA’s announcement on “regulatory flexibility” for the school meals program:
“The USDA’s less rigid stance on school nutrition standards is a rollback masquerading as ‘flexibility.’
In the last five years, nearly 100 percent of the nation’s schools have complied with updated school meal standards. Kids across the country have clearly benefited from these changes.Their meals are now lower in sodium and calories and offer more whole grains.
In addition, young people are eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit. If these standards are left in place, they have the potential to decrease childhood obesity cases by more than two million by 2025. We don’t understand why the USDA and some members of Congress want to fix something that clearly is not broken.
While the health impact of re-opening this rule is unknown at this point, it’s clear having American school children eat fewer whole grains is not heart healthy. Neither is serving 1 percent flavored milk, which loads extra calories and added sugar to school meals.
The USDA’s more accommodating approach to meet sodium standards when it comes to targets two and three is also extremely worrisome. This is especially true when this strategy is coupled with language in the omnibus bill to freeze the targets at one.
If we don’t move forward with the sodium standards, there could be serious health consequences for our kids. Children who eat high levels of sodium are about 35 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure, which can ultimately lead to heart disease or stroke. Earlier this year, the USDA gave schools a one-year extension for target two compliance. We should stick with that plan. We are pleased that the USDA will at least continue providing technical assistance to schools on sodium, which has been successful so far.
Overall, the American Heart Association is very disappointed that the USDA has decided to put special interests back on the school menu. We strongly urge the agency and Congress not to give politics priority over the health of our children.”