USDA proposes new nutrition guidelines for school meals

The new proposed guidelines will reduce sugar and salt and include foods more nutritious to promote better health.

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In an effort to address childhood obesity, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed new guidelines for school meals. The goal is to have school meal programs adhere to federal dietary standards by reducing sugar and salt.

While research shows one in three children is overweight and many suffer from diabetes, hypertension and other diet-related diseases, the new proposed guidelines will include foods more nutritious to promote better health.

“Many children aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and diet-related diseases are on the rise,” Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary, said. “Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals in a day for most kids, proving that they are an important tool for giving kids access to the nutrition they need for a bright future.”

The guidelines are based on the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which first allowed the USDA change school meal plans in thirty years. The new proposed guidelines will be introduced in the following timeline:

2025-26 school year: limiting the sugar in school meal foods and cap breakfast cereal at 6 grams of sugar and milk at 10 grams.

2027-28 school year: reduced to less than 10% of the calories of school breakfasts and lunches.

2029-30 school year: reduce sodium to a third of current levels.

In current school meal plans, added sugars account for 17 percent of breakfasts and 11 percent of lunches, while sodium is at 1,770 milligrams, which is above federal guidelines of 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily for children under eight, Causes.com reported.

“By proposing to limit the amount of added sugars in school meals for the first time ever, the USDA is taking a major step toward helping children achieve a more nutritious diet and better health,” The American Heart Association said.

While many describe the guidelines as a positive step to address the epidemic of childhood obesity, the School Nutrition Association called the guidelines “unrealistic” and said many districts currently struggle to “source ingredients under current requirements,” Causes.com reported.

The USDA said they plan to have the new guidelines finalized by the start of the 2024-2025 school year. A 60-day public comment period is now open.

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