Trump administration announces reversal of Michelle Obama's healthy school food reforms — on her birthday

Clark Mindock
EPA

The Trump administration has proposed new school lunch rules that critics say would allow for more pizzas, burgers and french fries to be served to children across the country instead of veggies — a cut to former first lady Michelle Obama’s signature achievement to try and make school lunches healthier.

The timing is also notable; the latest rule proposals were announced on Mrs Obama’s birthday.

The proposal was announced by the US Department of Agriculture on Friday, and would let schools cut the amount of fruits and veggies served up to the nearly 30 million American students in the public school system.

On the face of things, the rules change have been proposed by the Trump administration in order to give schools more options for providing vegetables to students. But, critics claim that the new rules simply create a loophole that will open the floodgates for unhealthy foods in school.

“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetising meals. We listened and now we’re getting to work,” said agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue, in a statement.

Colin Schwartz, the deputy director of legislative affairs for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, cast some doubt on whether those outcomes are likely.

It would “create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day,” Mr Schwartz told the Washington Post.

The Obama-era rules were put in place following the 2010 passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Mrs Obama championed as a part of her campaign for healthier children in the country. The aim of the menu rules changes was to provide healthier lunches, and boasted that things like hot dogs and pizza sticks would be replaced with whole wheat spaghetti and chefs salads.

But the latest alterations are not the attempt to roll back those guidelines by Mr Purdue, who announced in 2019 that rules regarding whole grains, nonfat milk and sodium would be w​eakened, citing food waste and nonparticipation as a key motivator for the changes.

Those rules, as well as the new one, essentially made it easier to serve up salty and fatty foods to children, who may receive as much as 50 per cent of their calories from school lunches and breakfasts.

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