This week, the USDA announced what it's calling "common-sense flexibilities" that allow school lunches to contain more refined grains, sugar, and sodium. With diet-related disease at an all time high - costing the US 200 billion in healthcare annually - a shift toward less healthy school menus is not only irresponsible, it's dangerous.
Diet-related disease begins in childhood, and school lunches are a major part of a child's overall dietary pattern. To loosen regulations that prevent the overconsumption of refined grains, sugar-sweetened dairy products, and foods high in sodium will have a significant effect on the short- and long-term health of our children.
There is not a single (credible) health or nutrition professional who would argue that serving kids more refined grains, sugar (hello chocolate milk), and sodium is a good idea. Unequivocally, public health data from the past thirty years has told us the exact opposite.
Not coincidentally, the USDA is both responsible for creating nutritional guidelines and promoting commodities and products like corn, sugar, meat, and dairy - the very products dominating our unhealthy food system. This extreme conflict of interest rarely benefits public health and the nutrition "advice" propagated by the USDA is almost always influenced by food manufacturers. Take one look at a school lunch menu and you'll see that the politicians responsible for setting the nutrition standards aren't shy about taking money from companies that benefit from the so-called "common-sense flexibilities" of loosened nutrition regulations.
There is nothing common-sense about feeding children increased amounts of foods linked to disease. Common-sense would be more heavily regulating the food industry and it's dangerous practices and products - not giving them a green light to sell more junk food to children. If, as Sonny Perdue claims (without data, by the way), kids aren't eating the healthier foods on their plates, we have to ask ourselves, "Is adding more unhealthy food to the menu the logical answer to that problem?"
It just doesn't make logical sense. It doesn't make common-sense. It doesn't make moral sense. The USDA has a responsibility to the people it serves to provide objective, scientific nutrition recommendations free of industry influence. It must immediately reverse its dangerously unhealthy policy that allows for more disease-linked foods to be served to our children.