USDA finalizes rules for Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, July 21, 2016 - USDA today announced final rules implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that officials say will improve access to healthy food and insure consistent standards for food marketed and served to students.

The department said the rules - a key component of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise a healthier generation - will ensure that children have access to nutritious snacks during the school day and promote integrity across the school meals program.

“I am thrilled with the progress we continue to make in building healthier learning environments for our kids with science-based nutrition standards for all food sold and marketed in schools,” the first lady said in a news release. “As a mom, I know how hard parents work to provide nutritious meals and snacks to their kids, and we want to make sure we support those efforts with healthy choices at school.”

Lets Talk Food

On a conference call with reporters, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Katie Wilson said the rules were little changed from the interim regulations proposed in 2013 that were implemented for the 2014-2015 school year, including new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time those standards basically require healthier foods with more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein.

The finalized rules include the so-called Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools or school districts where 40 percent or more of the students qualify for free meals to serve free meals to all students. In answer to a reporter's question, she said she hopes Congress will resist efforts to raise that standard to 60 percent. She said CEP removes the “stigma” poorer students face when served free meals while classmates have to pay and allows kids to “get back to learning and not have to concentrate on where their meals come from.”

USDA noted that there are already more 18,000 schools in high poverty areas currently participating in CEP, which is now in its second year of nationwide implementation offering nutritious meals at no cost to 8.5 million students.

Joining Wilson in endorsing CEP and the other rules that are being finalized were Donna Martin, the school nutrition program director in Burke County, Georgia, and the president-elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and Kelly Langston, PTA president of North Carolina and the state's Coordinator for Action for Healthy Kids.

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest also welcomed USDA's action.

Margo Wootan, CSPI's director of director of nutrition policy, said the announcement “caps six important years of achievement by the Obama administration to improve children's health - a push that started with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Sodas, candy, and other junk foods are out in favor of healthier school meals and snacks - an amazing transformation that promises to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases." 

Jessica Donze Black, with the Pew Charitable Trusts, noting that most of the regulations had already been implemented, said the announcement is largely to give people confidence that “these are the rules schools have to operate under for the foreseeable future.”

USDA used the occasion to tout the changes brought about by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. It said that more than 52 million children now have healthier food environments than ever before, with over 98 percent of schools meeting the healthier meal standards.

“In addition,” USDA said, “research shows that under the updated standards nearly 80 percent of schools offer two or more vegetables at lunch and consumption has increased by more than 16 percent. This is especially crucial for the approximately 15.3 million American children that live in food insecure households, many of whom rely on school meals as a consistent source of nutritious food.”


(This story corrects earlier version to show Jessica Donze Black works for Pew Charitable Trust, not CSPI.) 

 

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