A new rule proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture would allow schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program to serve less fruit, fewer whole grains, fewer varieties of vegetables and more starchy vegetables. Advocates of healthy eating said this proposal would weaken the nutrition standards and could hurt more than 300 thousand students in Utah.
Megan Lott is the deputy director of Healthy Eating Research at Duke University, a group that did an independent analysis on how this proposal could impact children in different states.
“Communities in Schools likely to be hit hardest by these changes are lower income communities, lower income schools, or students pardon who really are relying heavily on school meals for daily nutrition. But we do see that schools that are rural, smaller or have predominantly black and or Hispanic students have, on average, a more difficult time meeting the standards. And so, while the nutrition standards have been really effective and improving offerings in these schools and reducing gaps and disparities, there are still disparities that remain and based on the findings of our research, we think that the proposed change would have the biggest impact on those communities,” said Lott.
Lott said the reason given for these changes is they are a response to concerns from program operators, specifically increased food waste and decreased participation. However, she says just because the standard is lower doesn’t mean that schools have to adhere to the lower standard.
“Regardless of what happens with USDA of schools wanted to continue to meet the the standards as they are today they could continue to do so'" said Lott. "So the nutrition standards for school meals are policies for schools that have minimum has to meet those standards to get federal reimbursement.”
The public comment period for these rules is open through Wednesday, April 22.