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House Republicans Seek to Reverse Calorie Limits for School Lunches

Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced a bill last week that would eliminate new limits on the number of calories in the school lunches served to 32 million American school children each day.

The bill, dubbed the No Hungry Kids Act, is in direct response to new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines that for the first time in 15 years update the standards for the National School Lunch Program. The updated guidelines were part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which had high profile backing from First Lady Michelle Obama and her campaign to combat childhood obesity.

The new law not only called for new standards, but also, for the first time since 1980, mandated an increase in federal subsidies to school meal programs. The new rules are based on recommendations from experts at the Institute of Medicine, and include increasing the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low-fat milk, and set limits on the levels of calories and saturated fat in foods.

For the first time in history, school meals are also limited to a certain number of calories: 650 calories for meals for kindergarten through fifth grade, 700 calories for seventh and eighth grade and 850 calories for high school.

Both congressmen are taking a stand against this development, arguing that instead of helping to curb obesity the new policy actually leaves kids hungry.

“The goal of the school lunch program was — and is — to ensure students receive enough nutrition to be healthy and to learn,” said Rep. King. “The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s ‘Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,’ was interpreted by Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.”

King is locked in a fierce congressional reelection battle with Sec. Vilsack’s wife, Christie Vilsack.

Rep. Huelskamp said, in a news release: “Big government wins again,” adding that the First Lady’s “agenda full of ‘exciting changes’” is leaving kids hungry and undermining the program.

“If Washington is going to be in the school lunch business, then it should at least ensure that children have full stomachs,” said Helskamp. “Parents who purchase school lunches for their children or taxpayers who support free- and reduced- lunch programs have the expectation that what kids eat are meals — not mere snacks.”

In an email to The Hagstrom Report (subscription only), Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon responded Monday by highlighting the public health challenges facing the nation.

“One in three children in America are overweight or obese and at risk for diabetes, and school meals play a critical role in reinforcing what kids are learning about nutrition and healthy foods in the classroom and at home,” said Concannon. “Given that the previous school meal standards were developed 15 years ago and did not meet current nutritional guidelines, independent doctors, health and nutrition experts, and many moms and dads, supported the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by a strong bi-partisan majority in Congress.”

In the report, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan also pointed to the generally bipartisan support for addressing the challenge of childhood obesity. “It would be very, very sad if this becomes partisan,” she said.

Pictured: First Lady Michelle Obama dines with school children in Virginia.

© Food Safety News
  • Margie

    We must train these obstinate children to comply with prescribed diets. We must not, under any circumstance, risk obesity among our precious children. Better to withhold food and err on the side of caution, no?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4iEdMMjqdA&feature=related
    Oh, never fear — the food police know all about how to feed children to train them for their eventual station in a properly regulated food police state
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7JOAtF9CIg
    We simply must not tolerate potentially obesogenic behaviors.

  • Jack

    Achtung Eaters — Look — We Corporate Special Interests rule Government and Rule YOU too. Any foolish freedom-minded attempts to get around this will be dealt with via the usual methods, involving large sums of money. We like to call it “Deregulation”.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IB7NDUSBOo Chrysanne Grund

    Check out this video made by our local school in response to the school lunch policy.

  • RB

    Have you ever seen a school lunch? Prescribed diet? I think not. Kids have many options and the calorie limits equal about a third of their daily recommended calories. What the hell is so wrong with encouraging kids to eat healthy and providing those options through the school system? The schools tell kids not to do drugs and not to bully others. Is that part of your nanny state too?
    Last time I checked, your kids are not required to eat school lunch. I took a bag lunch all through school because my parents were too poor to pay for a meal every day. I understand that many of the children that eat the lunches are on a reduced fee plan and are from low income families; however, if they are getting assistance then they can eat what is offered. They are offered enough food; they just need to eat it.
    Unfortunately, many kids do not have parents that care about what they eat or how much they eat and don’t really understand what is healthy and what is not. The school system is supposed to educate our children and teach them things that they are not learning at home. I am glad that most of the readers of FSN are educated enough to know what to eat and how to eat but not everyone is a blessed or educated as you.

    • Derrick McLain

      Have you ever seen a school lunch? I think not. It’s usually a sandwich and fruits and vegies where I am currently going to High School. Not everyone eats fruits and vegies, sorry. So that leaves them with just a sandwich. You can’t force kids to eat healthy if they don’t like it. You are wasting food by giving it to students who don’t like it and throw it away. Kids aren’t getting enough calories to grow this way. There is nothing wrong with encouraging kids to eat healthy, but that’s assuming you are giving them the option to eat what they want without a limit. Otherwise, you’re not encouraging them. You’re enforcing them. 
      The parents that don’t care or don’t understand obviously weren’t ready to be adults. Once again, you are correct that the school system is supposed to educate the children. But education doesn’t equate to enforcing some action on the student. Education equates to the responsibility of the student doing the right thing because they have learned what is good and what is bad. Yes, kids make stupid decisions, but so do adults. You cannot act like you have never done anything stupid after High School or College – or even during College.
      This, I direct at everyone. I can say that I don’t eat many fruits and vegies if any at all. But most of my meals consist of protein and I am physically active. We wouldn’t have problems with obesity  if kids were more physically active. But there not. Get them outside or make them do a sport. When you live active, you can eat almost anything you want and stay skinny. Having a better nutrition – not a smaller calorie size – and physical excersise create a healthy person, not just healthy food.

  • Eric Munhall

    I don’t care what you call it –Socialism, Central Planning, Whatever!- Why is it that Washington elites think that they are so much smarter than the collective intelligence of 300 million Americans? Why should a bunch of bureaucrats 3,000 miles away try to make rules for our school children. Shouldn’t that be up to our elected school board and parents?
    Trying to set a limit on calories misses the point and the problems. It is not how many calories a child eats. It is the quality of those calories. A child can eat “low-calorie” or “low-fat” processed foods and still become obese. My school meets the 650 calorie limit, but they offer the children a choice between veggies and pizza. What child is going to choose veggies over pizza?
    I wish everyone would read Thomas Sowell’s book, Intellectuals and Society. The purpose of the Federal Government is not to micromanage our lives.

  • husna aijaz

    Mrs Obama is a mother of two school going children. Her initiatives in the world of School Nutrition can be appreciated not only by moms across the Nation, but by my fellow Nutritionists as well. She is truly a “Champion for Change” Mom!
    Children in Schools are not going hungry because of caloric reduction, but because they don’t have adequate time to eat. The policy makers who have time, please go in for a reality check at public schools as to how much food is thrown away or donated on daily basis!
    As adults, we take a lunch hour to enjoy our meal in a relaxed setting. So why not work on policies on increasing the time the kids spent on eating their lunch, instead of running away to play? Perhaps that will ensure our kids concentrate more on what the teachers are working so hard to get across.
    How about mandating laws for schools to ensure a healthy classroom party? Healthy PTA fundraisers? Bake sales at schools? Don’t you think that they all add up and contribute to Obesity.
    School is a place for building a healthy community, not promoting Obesity. It would be wonderful to see our policy makers work on these issues.
    Last, but not the least, now that Federal subsidies are increased for schools, parents and schools should work on getting the required amount of health inspections from the local health department to ensure employees in Cafeteria’s keep on their feet in relation to Sanitation measures. After all Food Safety comes first!
    We definately have a lot to work on in areas of Child Nutrition!

  • Raymond James

    Not understanding some of the comments on here. Nutrition standards set by doctors/sciencist/nutritionist what is the problem?
    Many children now get breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at the school. Many also get a take home back pack from private charities.
    Having proper nutirtion is important if we can do that why not? If a family wants to feed there child nothing is stopping them.
    The school lunch program is there to help families not a plot to take over the world.
    As for what lunches were/are. When I was in school the ladies cooked whole turkeys and used lots of whole foods to prepare meals. Last year I was in a school and could smell cheese/egg/sausage but could not see anything that looked like that. I asked and was shown a combo bar. Looked like a large chicken nugget. Tasted ok but had lots of fat and salt. I do not know if it would have been more fat and salt than if the eggs, cheese, sausage were cooked in a more traditional way.
    The other thing that shocked me about school lunches was the number of nugget looking foods. I spent 4 lunch periods teahing kinder garden students how to eat a chicken drum stick. they had never eaten chicken with a bone.
    Diffinetly not the school lunch program I grew up with. Now just heat and serve pre-made items. Canned fruit and processed no fresh vegtables.
    Thankfully this year the schools are gettting fresh local produce and more whole meats to cook. Even baking. big change in nutrition and taste.

    • Ellen Thom

      Yes, would it really be more expensive to cook real food onsite as they do in Europe and did in the US when I was growing up. We had hot dogs or hamburgers only on Friday. I read about a camp where they had to teach 11-year olds how to use fork and knife because they had only eaten pick-up foods. We ate most everything growing up. Each of us had a few opt-outs for hated foods, but mostly we ate what we were served and appreciative of it. I was a working mother and managed a nutritious home-cooked breakfast and included restaurant food for dinner only a couple of times a week. My son and I often shared one meal until he became a teenager.

  • Jem

    Along with the big fat food stamps market where junk foods are eligible, Food Corporations salivate over the school lunch supply business. Parents have little control over the nutritional content of what kids get at school and since their school budgets are running on empty there’s precious few resources (ie. kitchens) available for actually cooking Real Food.
    So our kids get a diet of highly-processed foods. And not surprisingly obesity levels are expected to increase 10 FOLD by 2020.
    Oh well — at least Big food is maintaining its profit structure.

  • Ted

    Academic reference for that forecast “10 FOLD” increase in obesity by 2020 “Jem” if you please.
    If, for example, 14% of kids, people, hogs or bureaucrats are obese, then a “10 fold” increase brings it up to 140%.
    Must be some kind of organic snake oil foodseller math whereby prices get doubled and tripled with impunity. Sounds like organic huckster hyperbole, sure enough, but applied to the obesity argument. Doesn’t work for obesity and it doesn’t work for organics but darned nice of you to expose yourself to us like that. Transparency is always good, no?
    So then, Jem, your reference?

  • Jem

    Sure Ted:
    “Adult Obesity Rates Could Exceed 60 Percent in 13 U.S. States by 2030, According to New Study”
    “ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2012) — The number of obese adults, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on course to increase dramatically in every state in the United States over the next 20 years, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012, a report released today by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).”
    “Projected Increases in Adult Obesity Rates
    If obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, by 2030, 13 states could have adult obesity rates above 60 percent, 39 states could have rates above 50 percent, and all 50 states could have rates above 44 percent.
    By 2030, Mississippi could have the highest obesity rate at 66.7 percent, and Colorado could have the lowest rate for any state at 44.8 percent. According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates in 2011 ranged from a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi to a low of 20.7 percent in Colorado.”

  • Jem

    And Oh — hey Ted– As you say “ransparency is always good, no?” Well here’s another story From today’s Politico…. (Not surprising that Trolls know all about snake oil)
    “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health released a new report Tuesday projecting America’s obesity rates through 2030. If current obesity rates continue, every state could have an obesity rate above 44 percent by 2030, and most states could have rates higher than 50 percent, the report found.
    That means the prevalence of health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension could increase 10 times by 2020 — and double by 2030. And in 20 years, the report finds, medical costs for treating obesity-related diseases like these in the United States will be increasing by $48 billion to $66 billion every year.”
    Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0912/81357.html#ixzz26xcRAFxh

  • Ted

    So then, Jem, your cherrypicked citations indicate obesity rates might double by 2030. Do you understand how dramatically different that is from your wild claim of a 10-fold increase by 2020? The trend is real and speaks for itself. When you professional alarmist types go all hyperbolic on fact like that the little that remains of your credibility collapses entirely. Then you have the stones to insist consumers should trust you and NOFA. Incredible. Simply incredible.

  • Diana

    The government has better things to be doing. Why are you so worried about obesity? My opinion you should be concentrating on making jobs for the American worker, then mom & dad could spend more time with their kids instead of working 2 jobs and living off of fast food.
    My concern is why is the government making these decisions for the schools? When the schools should be making these decisions.
    The schools invited pizza and pop in after I graduated, so they need to fix it.
    Please, do the jobs you are assigned to do in this life.
    Schools do your job and Government follow through on your promises, to create more jobs for the American worker.
    Stop the Outsourcing of all the American’s work. Obesity?They can’t afford to eat healthy. I think you all need to try living on limited incomes for awhile and see if you can afford to eat healthy and not live off the dollar menu.
    By the way I am speaking for the Americans that lost jobs and now have to survive any way they can.
    Almost $7.00 for a bag of apples compared to $1.00 for a burger.Even the schools are on tight budgets.Pizza is cheaper than apples. If you are on food stamps, apples are out of the question and jobs are few.
    Please, Please, stop the outsourcing of the American workers jobs.

  • Oy

    Diana…over half the population is obese right now, so obviously parents are not doing their jobs, so why shouldn’t schools try to set a good example? I don’t know where you go shopping, but a bag of apples is *not* $7 in any store I’ve ever been. You don’t have to break the bank to provide nutritious meals for a family and certainly don’t have to stoop to buying garbage off the Dollar Menu.
    I’m not quite sure why people are getting bent out of shape over schools providing their children with healthy meals! If parents are going to drop the ball, someone needs to help! These kids certainly are not going to starve to death eating 600-850 calories per lunch. Thank goodness for Mrs. Obama and her caring attitude for the young people of this country. We are in big (no pun intended) trouble in this country. If everyone’s ILL jobs will not mean a thing!

  • http://twitter.com/BrianKHendricks Brian Hendricks

     My son has a rare health condition, that requires a high fat high salt
    diet. Now If we don’t send his meals he comes home malnourished.  We had
    to get a prescription from his doctor just to bring poweraid to
    school. 
    The meals at school are a one size fits all disaster. Yes there a small group of kids this is good for, but not all.

    • Ellen Thom

      These meals were never meant to accommodate every single specialty diet. If so, you would also have to provide kosher, vegan and other special diets. Sorry about your son but perhaps a small supplement to the lunch would provide extra fat and salt can come in a little packet.

  • C E

    Did anyone notice in this article it skipped the sixth grade “kindergarten through fifth grade, 700 calories for seventh and eighth grade and 850 calories for high school”