Washington, D.C. – Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released proposed updates to strengthen school meal nutrition standards, building on the 2012 nutrition standards for school meals (a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) by limiting added sugars in certain products, gradually reducing sodium limits, and emphasizing whole grains. The five food and nutrition experts and policy leaders who co-chaired The Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health (Task Force) — an independent, non-partisan group of national leaders and experts — applaud the USDA’s crucial action towards healthier, more nutritious school lunches.
The proposed rule represents an example of USDA and the Biden Administration’s commitment to supporting nutrition security through the federal nutrition programs. The updates are based on the most recent Federal nutrition guidance, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 (DGA), and are part of USDA’s multi-step approach to help schools recover and rebuild from the pandemic. In February 2022, USDA published a final rule that established “transitional standards” for milk, whole grains, and sodium in school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. The “transitional standards” allowed schools the time and support needed to build back from the pandemic. USDA expects to issue a final rule in time for schools to plan for the 2024-2025 school year.
While concerns were raised in the past about implementation challenges related to costs, kitchen infrastructure, and taste of more nutritious school lunches, several well done studies have shown that, after updates of school nutrition standards, schools achieve high compliance, healthy meals do not cost more, kids like and eat the meals the same or more, and food waste does not increase from pre- to post-implementation. We are confident these updated guidelines will further improve school meal participation and increase nutrition security for kids, and look forward to submitting a formal response to the USDA’s proposed rule, supporting the alignment of meal standards with the most current edition of the DGA.
Statement from Task Force Co-chair Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Food Systems for the Future; Former Executive Director, World Food Programme
“Inequities in accessing affordable, nutritious food have always existed, but the pandemic helped peel back what was hiding in plain sight – that millions of students are not getting enough healthy, nutrient-rich food to eat. We know where the investments are needed in our food system – one of them being our public schools – so, I applaud USDA for responding with actions that we know will result in improved health and educational outcomes for our nation’s youth and remain committed to supporting a whole-of-society approach to realizing a future free of hunger and malnutrition.”
Statement from Task Force Co-chair Senator Bill Frist, Former Majority Leader of the United States Senate; Global Board Vice-Chair, The Nature Conservancy; Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; Adjunct Professor of Surgery, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Department of Cardiac Surgery
“Prioritizing and strengthening our school nutrition guidelines is a tremendous step forward in improving health and educational outcomes. These modernized standards will ensure better, more equitable access to nutritious meals. The science is clear: better eating habits – especially when starting young – will lead to long-lasting improvement in our bodies and our minds.”
Statement from Task Force Co-chair Secretary Dan Glickman, Distinguished Fellow of the Center on Global Food and Agriculture, Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; Former United States Secretary of Agriculture
“Students who don’t have access to nutritious foods often suffer academic consequences and see lower achievement in school. With the proper diet, students experience increased academic performance. We know that healthy, nutritious foods help nourish the body and brains of America’s future leaders — that’s why we stand ready to support all stakeholders involved in the process towards achieving these crucial school nutrition guidelines.”
Statement from Task Force Co-chair Dean Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean for Policy and Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University; Professor of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine and Division of Cardiology, Tufts Medical Center
“Lack of good nutrition is the number one driver of poor health in the U.S. – and our youth are no exception. One in four of American teens have overweight or obesity, and one in four have prediabetes. Past updates to school nutrition standards were incredibly successful, increasing healthfulness and improving nutrition equity. But, 1 in 4 school meals remain of poor nutritional quality. With three of my children in public schools, it’s time for the next phase of improvements so our children receive the high quality, nutritious foods they need to learn and thrive. I congratulate USDA for this important update and look forward to supporting this process.”
About the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University
The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is a leading U.S. institution focused on education, research, and public impact around the food system, from soil to society. The School’s five divisions and additional centers and institutes are renowned for the application of scientific evidence to national and international policy. Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier teaching and research universities in the U.S. Learn more at nutrition.tufts.edu/