WASHINGTON, July 22, 2015 –As Senate Agriculture Committee leaders work on child nutrition reauthorization, the American Heart Association has published a paper suggesting sodium levels in school meals should continue to be reduced to ensure a healthy diet for children. The paper challenges other recent reports suggesting that diets which are too low in sodium carry their own health risks.

The AHA paper – Reducing Sodium Intake in Children: A Public Health Investment – was published online in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension last week. It says efforts to change some aspects of the school meals provisions in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) to rid the program of its sodium target levels “undermine an effective strategy aimed at improving the health of our children and our nation.”

“Because children who eat school meals can consume 50 percent or more of their daily calories at school, it is important that foods available in schools meet nutrient requirements and promote the development of life-long healthy eating habits,” the paper said. Its five authors include Alice Lichtenstein, vice chair of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). In the DGAC’s scientific report, the committee labeled sodium as a “nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” but did not specifically address sodium levels in children.

The HHFKA set targets for sodium in school breakfasts and lunches, aiming to cut sodium levels nearly in half by 2023. Under the law, the sodium amounts in school lunches dropped to “Target 1” levels in the 2014-2015 school year and are supposed to hit “Target 2 levels” – a drop of about 31 percent – in the 2017-2018 year school year. Breakfast sodium levels are to drop about 11-12 percent in the same time period.

In its 2015 position paper, the School Nutrition Association calls for maintaining Target 1 levels and suspending “implementation of further targets.” The Institute of Medicine found in 2013 that there was insufficient evident to conclude that lowering daily sodium intake below 2,300 mg per day “either harms or improves cardiovascular outcomes and all-cause mortality.”


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