Biden administration toughens school nutrition standards

By Thomson Reuters Apr 24, 2024 | 7:43 AM

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new rules limiting the sugar and sodium content of meals served to millions of children at U.S. public schools.

The standards unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are part of President Joe Biden’s broader effort to combat diet-related disease such as childhood obesity.

“We all share the goal of helping children reach their full potential,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the new standards.

The plan will, for the first time, require schools to limit added sugars in meals nationwide by 2027, as well as slightly reduce sodium content, according to the USDA.

It also seeks to make it easier for schools to offer protein-rich and vegetarian options and encourage districts to buy locally grown or raised foods.

Starting in 2025, the standards will also impose limits on the percentage of food grown or raised outside the United States, the USDA said – a move aimed at supporting U.S. farmers.

“The new standards build on the great progress that school meals have made already and address remaining challenges,” said USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long.

U.S. public schools serve breakfast and lunch to about 30 million children daily, according to the USDA.

Some school nutrition directors have warned that stricter meal guidelines could force schools to scale back menus, inadvertently pushing students to less healthy food choices.

They have also pointed out that inflated food prices and labor shortages can make new regulations difficult to implement.

The debate over school nutrition has spanned several administrations.

The Obama administration raised standards, requiring schools to serve fruits and vegetables daily and offer more whole grains. Under the Trump administration, some of those requirements were rolled back.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis. Editing by Gerry Doyle)