CDC: Schools making progress on healthy lunch rules

CDC: Schools making progress on healthy lunch rules
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Most U.S. schools are working to meet first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaBudowsky: Dems need council of war The Hill's 12:30 Report Michelle Obama gets standing ovation at ESPYs MORE’s healthy school lunch standards, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC said the number of schools implementing at least five of the nine school nutrition service practices recommended to serve healthier meals increased dramatically from 2000 to 2014.

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The report found that 79.4 percent of schools were offering two or more vegetables each day at lunch, up from 61.7 percent in 2000, and that 78 percent were offering two or more fruit options, up from 68.1 percent.

Almost all schools were offering whole grains at breakfast and lunch, too — 97.2 percent and 94.4 respectively — while nearly one-third of schools, 30.5 percent, were offering self-serve salad bars.

In addition to serving whole grains and more fruits and vegetables, the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act also mandates that schools reduce the sodium content in meals by hitting two target levels, one in 2012 and another in 2017.

Critics of the standards, however, have asked Congress to leave sodium levels where they are until research proves that further reductions would benefit children, and to do away with the requirement to make each student take a half-cup of fruit or vegetables with every meal.

The CDC said the majority of schools, 54.1 percent, are working to meet those lower sodium levels by using fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. And 51.8 percent of those still serving canned vegetables have chosen the low-sodium option, up from 10.3 percent in 2000.

Of the schools studied, 65.1 percent said they were using other seasonings instead of salt, up from 32.8 percent in 2000, and 68 percent were reducing the amount of sodium called for in recipes or using low-sodium recipes, up from 34.1 percent.

“School meals are healthier now than ever before,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a release. “We’ve made real progress, but there is much more to do to help American children make food choices that will keep them healthy throughout their lives.”

The CDC recommends schools partner with Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an organization that raises money to donate salad bars to schools, and work with CDC-funded staff in state health departments to get further training and resource materials for school administrators, teachers and parents.

The agency also said school officials should ensure their meal programs are equipped with the proper equipment to prepare and serve fruits and vegetables, like food processors, knives, cutting boards and refrigerators.

The American Heart Association said it hopes Congress pays close attention to the report findings.

“If we continue to teach our kids to eat nutritious foods early on, we can protect them from a lifelong struggle with cardiovascular disease or even an early death. On this point, there is no flexibility,” the AHA’s CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.