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Policy Summary
The Trump administration has altered the way children are eating lunch, nationwide. The State of New York claims today’s school lunches contain fewer whole grains, more sodium, and additional milk flavors in children’s meals. The official charge blames the U.S. Department of Agriculture for cutting back school breakfast and lunch standards without the typical, required public review and comment period, and in doing so violating the federal Administrative Procedure Act. The lawsuit files by the states claims that the Department has disregarded federal dietary standards. The original rules were set in place by former first lady Michelle Obama, as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign, in an effort to make school meals healthier. The “Let’s Move” guidelines set a limit for sodium, trans fats and calorie intake, while also promoting more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Analysis
In May 2017, during his first week on the job, the Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue announced he would begin to roll back the Obama-era school meal standards. The Agriculture Secretary seemed to take the issue lightly as he said, “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk.” Soon after, Mr. Perdue went on to allow exemptions from the whole-grain requirements, delay the sodium mandate and serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat. The Agriculture Department maintained that the guidelines, laid out by the previous administration, were not only onerous for the school system, but aided in higher costs and significantly lowered federal school lunch program participation. Advocacy organizations opposed to the recent changes, have claimed Perdue’s goal to “Make school meals great again” has, in reality, gambled with the health of more than 30 million students.

Letitia James, Attorney General of New York, has spoken out ardently against the school lunch rollbacks. Earlier this month, the Attorney General said, “The Trump Administration has undermined key health benefits for our children – standards for salt and whole grains in school meals – with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law. My office will use every tool at our disposal to fight back against these shameful rollbacks and ensure our children are  protected.” During her statement Ms. James went on to say, the Trump administration is “attacking the health and the safety of our children”. She pointed out that the poorest children would be the most affected by the negative changes. Currently, New York State has nearly two million children who live below the poverty line. “For many of our students, the meals they receive at school are the only hot nutritious meals they eat during the day. And access to healthy and nutritious food should never be determined by your ZIP code or your socioeconomic status.

New York is not alone in their public outrage. Other states that signed on to the suit include California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia. In addition, The Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland, have also filed a similar complaint in Federal District Court in Maryland. Many critics have spoken out against the current administration’s abandonment of the Obama-era nutritional standards without doing any scientific research beforehand. By ignoring scientific results showing that healthier school meals can improve not only the overall health of the students but can also aid in school preparedness.

  • Action for Healthy Kids fights childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can live healthier lives.
  • Share Our Strength‘s mission is to end hunger and poverty in the U.S. and abroad, by helping low-income families learn to shop and cook healthier.
  • Wellness in the Schools is a national non-profit that teaches kids healthy habits to learn and live better. WIT partners with public schools to provide nutrition and fitness education, healthy scratch-cooked meals and active recess periods for long-term change, shifting school cultures.
  • The Center for Ecoliteracy is dedicated to cultivating education for sustainable living. The Center recognizes that students need to experience and understand how nature sustains life and how to live accordingly. The organization also encourages schools to teach and model sustainable practices.
  • No Kid Hungry is a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. The group is working to make sure children all across the country are able to get the food they need, every day.

Photo by Toa Heftiba

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