Why on earth would we want to lower the quality of school lunches just when we are starting to see progress in reducing childhood obesity? What's really behind efforts to roll back the nutrition standards adopted in 2010? As usual, the answer may lie in corporate profits.
I was a public school teacher for 20 years. At the beginning of my teaching career, schools still cooked hot meals for student lunches. Gradually this changed over the years, and school cafeterias instead began reheating processed foods, and the menu shifted to greasy pizza, chicken nuggets, tater tots, french fries, canned vegetables and fruit. I also saw my students grow increasingly overweight over the years- a reflection of the alarming obesity epidemic among our children that finally led to changes in nutrition requirements for school lunches.
In 2010, Congress passed the Hunger-Free Kids Act. It was intended to help schools provide every child with a healthy meal during the school day as a means to fight childhood obesity. New school meal standards for school lunches were based on independent, expert recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. Students are entitled to free lunches if their families’ incomes are below 130 percent of the annual income poverty level guideline established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and to reduced price lunches if the family income is below 185 percent of poverty level. Currently, the federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $23,850. The program provides not only lunches, but breakfast, after school snacks, and summer meals for qualifying students. For many children, it is their main meal of the day.
In fiscal year 2013, federal school nutrition programs underwrote more than five billion lunches served to nearly 31 million students. Total funding for all nutrition programs sums to $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments in fiscal year 2014. School nutrition programs are one of the largest federal funding streams to schools.90% of school districts are successfully implementing the new nutrition standards. According to the USDA, schools actually saw an net nationwide increase in revenue from school lunches of approximately $200 million. And best of all, students are actually eating more fruits and vegetables, and food waste has not increased according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Feeding 30 million kids every day. - School Nutrition Association websiteWhy is the School Nutrition Association lobbying to roll back the new nutrition standards? 90% of school districts are successfully implementing the new guidelines, kids are eating more fruits and vegetables, and the new guidelines have not increased food waste. So what is this really about?
Today, the School Nutrition Association, on behalf of 55,000 school cafeteria professionals and the families they serve, urged Congress and the Administration to take immediate steps to provide school nutrition professionals the flexibility they need to plan healthy, appealing meals while maintaining fiscally solvent programs.- statement by School Nutrition AssociationHmmm..."Flexibility to plan healthy, appealing meals while maintain fiscally solvent programs." The School Nutrition Association wantsto give school districts "flexibility" to serve "appealing meals" so that they don't lose money.
As the NYTimes reported yesterday
The School Nutrition Association, a group composed of school nutritionists, praised the legislation. The group, which receives financing from several food companies that originally opposed the nutrition standards, said the cost of the new rules had led to a decrease in the number of schools participating in the federal meals programs. The group said the rules had also led to tons of wasted food because children were not eating the healthier alternatives.According to the SNA's cheery website :
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is the only professional association dedicated solely to the support and well being of school nutrition professionals in advancing good nutrition for all children.However, as the NYTimes article points out, the School Nutrition Association receives financing from several food companies. The SNA also has industry members. According to the SNA website, industry membership comes with some nice perks, especially considering that there are $16+ billion in federal funds going into school lunch programs:
Industry membership provides companies with multiple opportunities:Industry members can sponsor events at the SNA's annual conference. Here's a few of the industry sponsors of this year's SNA conference: Jennie-O Turkey Store, Smuckers, PepsiCo Food Service, ConAgra Food Service, General Mills Food Service, Kellogs Food Away From Home, Sara Lee Food Service, and Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service.
Market products and services to school nutrition operators through SNA conferences
Advertise in the award-winning School Nutrition magazine
Sponsor events at conferences
Attend education sessions at SNA conferences with school nutrition operators and your industry peers
Become certified or credentialed, demonstrating a deeper understanding of nutrition in schools and strengthening client-vendor relations - SNA website
Here's a link to a presentation at the 2014 SNA apparently sponsored by McDonald's titled "Partners for Progress and Innovation" that touts the nutritional benefits of Happy Meals.
Of course the same food companies who finance the SNA and hold industry memberships in the organization also give nice campaign contributions to members of Congress. Child nutrition advocates not so much.
It's not over yet. Here's a link to a petition to let members of Congress know that we don't want to put the interests of Big Food ahead of our children's health.
2:37 PM PT: A quick check of political contributions to House Appropriations Committee members from "food and kindred products manufacturing" shows $27,000 to Tom Latham, R-Iowa, $27,000 to Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, $15,900 to Kevin Yoder, R- Kansas, and $12,500 to Steve Womack, R-Arkansas. ( Contributions shown for the last two years of available data, Jan 1, 2012 - Dec 31, 2013, including contributions to presidential campaigns.) http://maplight.org/...