June 2017 Issue

Editor's Spot: School Nutrition Setback
By Judith Riddle
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 19, No. 6, P. 4

Much to my chagrin, the Trump administration has delayed some aspects of the school nutrition standards the Obama administration had established under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to help fight childhood obesity, which has tripled since the 1970s, and improve children's overall health in our nation. School meal programs will be able to serve kids 1% flavored milk instead of fat-free flavored milk; they won't have to meet the 100% whole-grain-rich standard, although at least one-half of the grains served still must be whole grain to comply with the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA); and they won't have to meet the stricter target for lowering sodium in foods.

School districts' financial struggles, decreased student participation in the school lunch program, and alleged increases in food waste are the reasons for the more relaxed nutrition requirements. I use the word "alleged" because not everyone agrees that students are throwing away more food than they were before schools began serving more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. According to Marlene Schwartz, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, who was quoted online in a recent CNN article, the debate that kids are throwing away more food "isn't supported by research." Studies show that "plate waste has not increased," she said.

How these changes will affect children's overall health remains to be seen. What troubles me the least is the allowable switch from fat-free flavored milk to 1% flavored milk. Kids will be consuming a little bit more saturated fat each day, which is somewhat concerning, considering the childhood obesity epidemic. The fact that schools no longer have to meet the 100% whole-grain-rich standard is more problematic because regular consumption of whole grains can protect against chronic disease. A recent study of 700 elementary school kids found that increased servings of whole grains were significantly associated with higher standardized test scores in reading comprehension and fluency as well as math.

Then there's the biggest sore point: increasing sodium intake. Excessive sodium intake can lead to hypertension and other heart disease risk factors in children, so relaxing this standard isn't wise. A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that children's and teens' sodium intakes already are too high. The average intake is 3,300 mg per day for all children aged 6 to 18 in the United States. The DGA recommend less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium for children younger than age 14. Today's Dietitian will cover these latest developments more in-depth and discuss how they may impact school nutrition.
In this issue, you'll find updates on the federal Team Nutrition initiative, as well as other features on stevia, theme park menu makeovers, and RD food product entrepreneurs.

Please enjoy the issue!

Judith Riddle