Chicken Nuggets by Banksy

School Nutrition: Take It with a Grain of Salt

Is human nutrition now a political issue? It seems so. In his first week on the job, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue dined on chicken nuggets at a Virginia elementary school. Then he announced he is easing back on school nutrition standards. This administration will “make school meals great again,” he proclaimed.

Careful Praise for Michelle Obama

Perdue offered some praise for the work of Michelle Obama “addressing obesity problems in the past.” But what’s past is past. He announced he is holding off on tougher limits for salt, sugar-sweetened milk, and refined grains in school meals for now. He said he wants to give schools more time to adapt. And he insisted that he will not roll back the standards permanently:

I want to assure those of you who are concerned that we are reversing nutritional standards – no way. We’re not unwinding or winding back any nutritional standards at all.

If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,

Skeptical Nutrition Activists

Nutrition activists were dismayed. President Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group said:

Just because children would rather eat heavily salted, processed foods at school doesn’t mean they should. The president’s fondness for Big Macs and KFC is well known, but we shouldn’t let Colonel Sanders and McDonald’s run the school cafeteria.

Marion Nestle summed up the feelings of many activists on her blog:

It’s pretty depressing to watch what’s happening to the gains in food and nutrition policy so hard won in the last few years. Nothing but bad news.

Perhaps this is just political hype for a hyper-partisan era. There’s always room to debate nutrition standards. At some point, perhaps concern for the health of our children will take priority.

We hope so.

Click here for more from Politico and here for more from Marion Nestle.

Chicken Nuggets by Banksy, photograph © Sceggs / flickr

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May 2, 2017