Ms. Obama, School Lunches, and Science
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 07:27 AM

The White House round table this week included not only Michelle Obama, but also the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and President Obama's Senior Adviser for Nutrition, all against the background of a congressional push to repeal updated public school nutrition standards.

"We're not even thinking about the possibility of rolling back because we can't afford for that to happen," Mrs. Obama stated.

Mrs. Obama pressed urgency. "There were 100 pediatricians on the Hill recently trying to make sure our Congress understands what's at stake ... that they know what the science is."

"We want to make sure that decisions about our kids' school lunches are based on science, not on politics," she said.

The nutrition adviser pointed to the politics behind food in other food industry fights. "There's a lot of precedent for this. We saw it just a couple of years ago when a couple of key industry interests fought very hard to classify pizza -- tomato sauce specifically on pizza -- as a vegetable," he told the AAP president.

"And they won," Mrs. Obama interjected.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, 2010, imposed minimum nutrition standards for meals served in public schools. The standards increased fruit and vegetable consumption, called for low-fat or fat-free milk, and required only whole grain rich grain products and no trans fats. As of right now, 90% of U.S. schools are compliant.  A 2013 study by Taber et al. showed that quality nutrition standards for the meals had a significant impact in reducing obesity rates among children who ate at school.

Even though evidence from the Department of Agriculture that revenue from school meals has increased by roughly $200 million since 2010, both the School Nutrition Association and the GOP, both one-time supporters of the bill, want to see it repealed.

"They're saying: This is hard. They're saying there's plate waste. They're saying it's too expensive. They need more time. The reality is that what's being proposed in the bill is a complete overhaul," Mrs. Obama said.

"Repealing a good plan certainly makes no sense to me," the chief medical officer of Texas Children's Pediatrics in Houston reported. "Healthy food does not have to be more costly than unhealthy food. In addition, the cost to society of failing to make any progress in childhood nutrition far outweighs any costs involved in the current program."

"A lot of these kids are getting their two only real meals a day at school, so it makes sense to focus energy on the schools."  Ritsch noted that it might take time to get kids used to eating foods they aren't accustomed to, but she said, "Kids will eat real food, if you give them real food."