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