USDA Announces New Guidelines to Improve School Nutrition

Monday, February 6, 2012

The days of mystery meat sandwiches should soon be over, and replaced by healthier options throughout our nation’s school lunch program. This past Wednesday, January 25, the USDA, in partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama, announced new guidelines for healthier school meal programs.  This announcement came in coordination with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, signed in December 2010 by President Obama. According to the USDA press release, the new guidelines will increase offerings of fruits and vegetables in every meal, add more foods containing whole grains, offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties, and take more consideration of portion size and amounts of fat and sodium in meals. These are the first standards ever imposed to limit sodium, trans fat and whole grains. The new guidelines will be introduced to schools as early as next school year, and will have a three-year period to be entirely accepted.

These guidelines are a huge victory for nutritionists concerned with today’s diet and the growing number of overweight and obese children. However, some experts argue that they are simply not strong enough to combat current health disparities. Obesity and diabetes in children lead to many health problems later in life and are causing scientists to predict that this may be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. Doctors with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine think stricter guidelines, restricting meat and dairy, are necessary to combat childhood obesity. Yet, proponents are satisfied with the guidelines and argue that eliminating meat and dairy altogether may be too drastic and unrealistic to enforce. Most agree that the guidelines will make school meals healthier than ever before. They also give credit back to the Federal government, after Congress’s infamous decision in November to continue to count the tomato sauce of pizza as a vegetable serving. Despite the politics associated with changing school meal programs, the future is optimistic for better nutrition for children across the nation.