Washington, DC - American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown made the following comments on an interim final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The rule would allow school nutrition directors to include 1 percent flavored milk and refined grains instead of whole-grain rich products in school meals, as well as revise the sodium targets for daily school breakfasts and lunches: “This new rule deserves an ‘F.’  It fails the test when it comes to helping our kids eat healthier at school.

In the last five years, nearly 100 percent of the nation’s participating schools have complied with updated school meal standards. Kids across the country have clearly benefited from these changes. Their meals have less salt, sugar and saturated fat, and they eat 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit. Why would the USDA want to roll back the current standards and reverse this excellent progress? 

Fortunately, when these changes were first previewed by the USDA last May, many schools publicly declared that they would reject this rule and keep healthy foods on our kids’ plates. We strongly applaud these institutions for their ongoing commitment to the existing standards.  

For those schools that may be experiencing challenges, chipping away at the nutrition standards to cater to special interests won’t solve their problems. Instead, the USDA should focus its time and resources on providing more technical assistance to any school that is struggling with offering more healthy food options. 

This new rule is described as an effort to give the nation’s schools more “flexibility” on what foods to serve our children. But the truth is it would revoke school nutrition standards that will help kids attain better long-term health and academic success. We urge the USDA to leave these important nutrition standards intact and reconsider taking this action.”