New research shows importance of aligning school meals with Dietary Guidelines for Americans

A boy in the school cafeteria adding foods his lunch tray

CDC

Statement of CSPI Campaign Manager, Federal Child Nutrition Programs, Meghan Maroney

New research shows that aligning the school meal programs with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans may improve children’s health and reduce future chronic disease rates and healthcare costs. Researchers at Tufts, Harvard, and Merrimack College and the Center for Science in the Public Interest estimated that the healthier school meals would result in reduced consumption of added sugars and sodium and an increase in consumption of whole grains, which would in turn result in lower body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure. 

If just 35 percent of childhood dietary changes were to carry over to adulthood, the Guidelines-aligned school meal standards were predicted to result in 10,900 fewer annual deaths due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, and $19.3 billion in health care dollars saved per year. 

The proposed school meals rule released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February would bring school meals into closer compliance with the Dietary Guidelines. It proposes a new, science-based cap on added sugars, which is important. But the rule would not bring school meals into full compliance with the Guidelines when it comes to sodium limits and whole grain content. 

Since the release of the proposed rule, USDA has heard from tens of thousands of parents and others who are calling on the agency to make additional efforts to serve less salty meals with more whole grains and less refined white flour. We hope USDA takes those comments into account as it develops a final rule, and we call on Congress not to impede USDA’s progress with riders designed to accommodate special interests like the dairy industry.  

Healthy kids make better learners and become healthier adults. Serving our children nourishing school meals that are aligned with the government’s basic nutrition recommendations is something that deserves broad bipartisan support in Congress. 

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