Friday, December 07, 2018

Let's see the research before reversing school lunch standards

After years of effort to strengthen nutrition standards, based on scientific reports from the National Academies and others, leading to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, USDA yesterday published a final rule that rolled back the proposed standards in three ways: (1) delaying implementation of interim standards for sodium, and giving up on the eventual more ambitious standards; (2) allowing sweetened flavored low-fat milk, and (3) relaxing rules to encourage whole grain content.

It is good to base major child nutrition policy decisions on the best and most recent research. Every few years, USDA publishes a major School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA) and a school meals cost study. The last SNDA, in 2012, found that many school meals fell short of targets for whole grains and sodium, for example.

For the most recent such research, USDA funded a major study by Mathematica Policy Research that for the first time would combine the previously separate studies into a single more coherent School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS). The Mathematica website lists the study as running from 2013-2017. The study has long been awaiting clearance at USDA.

For sound science-based policy-making, an appealing option for USDA could have been to first publish this important study and then afterwards publish the final rule on school meals standards. However, this week the order was reversed, with policy decision first. We will read the scientific report with great interest when it is published.






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