Peter G. Lurie

It’s a little passé to quote Yogi Berra these days, but his wise words continue to ring true.

The Trump administration’s effort to roll back seemingly final nutrition standards for school meals “ain’t over till it’s over.”

In 2010, years of advocacy and organizing by activists led by Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, led to passage of the landmark Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The law, and regulations later set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ushered in a new era for school meals: more fruits and vegetables, less salt, more whole grains, less saturated fat.

Not so fast.

In May 2017, in his first week in office, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation that promised to weaken those standards.

This past December, the USDA delivered on its pledge. Its final rule eliminated the long-term target for cutting sodium and weakened the goal requiring all breads and other grain foods to be at least 50 percent whole grain.

Clearly, the USDA didn’t take CSPI and the lawyers at Democracy Forward into account.

On April 3, we and Healthy School Food Maryland filed suit charging the USDA with violating the law when it failed to adequately respond to the 99 percent of public comments that opposed the rollbacks. The agency also violated the law by not requiring that school meals follow the USDA’s own Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

If it weren’t so depressing, we could follow Yogi’s admonition to “Take it with a grin of salt.” But grains of salt are nothing to grin about.

On March 5, an expert panel convened by the prestigious National Academy of Medicine reaffirmed the scientific evidence that high-sodium intakes raise blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The panel advised adults to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day—the same level set by a 2005 panel—while lowering limits for most children. The panel called those levels “Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Intakes” because, it said, reducing sodium intake lowers not only blood pressure but also the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So just when the USDA should be protecting children by strengthening limits on excess sodium in school meals, the agency is weakening them.

On the upside, soon after the Academy issued its sodium report came news that the Salt Institute—for over a century a promoter of the salt industry and a vehement denier of the risks of salt—would dissolve at the end of March.

As Yogi himself might have said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photo: U.S Department of Agriculture.