Schools, parents and kids are onboard with new school meals: Congress should follow suit

This week the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee continue to negotiate child nutrition legislation. We urge bipartisan progress on this important issue to ensure our nation’s children receive nutritious meals and snacks during the school day. Ninety-five percent of schools are successfully meeting the new standards and serving healthier meals. We encourage Congress to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and schools across the country in getting that number up to 100 percent so that healthy meals can help combat childhood obesity and the chronic conditions that come with it.

The standards we have today have been a long time coming and spanned both the Bush and Obama administrations. With the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, Congress instructed USDA to update the nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines. The bill, authored by Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Finance: GOP offers measure to repeal arbitration rule | Feds fine Exxon M for Russian sanctions violations | Senate panel sticks with 2017 funding levels for budget | Trump tax nominee advances | Trump unveils first reg agenda Senate committee ignores Trump, House budgets in favor of 2017 funding levels Overnight Finance: CBO finds 22M more uninsured under Senate health bill | GOP agrees ObamaCare taxes must go | Supreme Court to look at Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections | More tax reform hearings | Green light for partial travel ban | MORE (R-Miss.), passed in the Senate by unanimous consent and passed without objection in the House just one day later. The science-based process of updating nutrition standards is very time-intensive, and when the next reauthorization came up in 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) instructed USDA to continue the good work and issue the new regulations.

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In our 2012 report, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future, we supported full implementation of HHFKA because we see it as a key component to improving child nutrition and combating childhood obesity. And we have continued to support this through opinion editorials and public comments, asking Congress to end the food fight over “pizza is a vegetable” and white potatoes, and supporting the Competitive Foods Rule and the new nutrition standards for meals served in child care. With the alarming increase in adults and even children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and the high associated medical costs, now is not the time to roll back nutrition standards for programs that feed tens of millions of children every day.

But a history of bipartisanship and a rigorous scientific backing aren’t the only reasons to continue with the current standards. They are also overwhelmingly popular! National and state polls alike consistently show that parents support the new healthier meals that their kids are receiving and do not think that the standards should be rolled back. Even kids are on board with the new meals. Mission Readiness, an advocacy organization of over 550 retired admirals, generals, and other retired senior military leaders also supports healthier school meals as a means to protect national security. Too Fat to Fight and other subsequent reports from Mission Readiness have all found that the majority of young adults are ineligible for military service, due in large part to being overweight. Consistent standards are also good for the food industry, which has sunk large amounts of time and money over the past several years to reformulate products to meet the new standards.

Lastly, this is an issue of good governance. Congress has a duty to the American public to spend our money wisely. Given increasing evidence of the economic consequences of poor health, the meals served to our nation’s schoolchildren each day should be healthy ones. Good governance also means not doubling back every year to undo legislation and regulations that are built on bipartisan collaboration, are science-based, and are already being implemented successfully across America. So as we said nearly 4 years ago: Capitol Hill – let’s end the food fight. Support healthy children and reauthorize the child nutrition programs without weakening standards.

Veneman served as Agriculture secretary for President George W. Bush. Glickman served as Agriculture secretary for President Clinton. They both serve as co-chairs of BPC’s Prevention Initiative.