During her husband's presidential tenure, one of Michelle Obama's biggest projects was working to improve children's health through her campaign "Let's Move!" Part of that initiative included major reforms to the guidelines for food that grade schools serve students. Now, though, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama's school lunch rules and replaced them with a set that's more lenient, according to ABC News.
The rationale, as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue explains it in a press release, is that the old mandates don't provide enough freedom for schools to make decisions based on the nutritional needs of their particular set of students. He also argues that the current rules may force schools to serve meals that students find unappetizing.
"If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted," Perdue said in a Thursday statement. "We all have the same goals in mind — the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition."
The rule specifically touches on requirements around milk, grains, and sodium. The Obama-era rules mandated that all needed to be whole grains, while allowing some schools to request waivers. Now, only half of the grains in school meals every week must be whole grains.
When it comes to sodium, schools had previously been required to follow three phases that would gradually reduce the amount of sodium allowed in meals. Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first phase has now been prolonged, the second phase delayed, and the third phase eliminated, meaning that schools are allowed to reduce the sodium level in their food more slowly and don't need to ultimately make cuts that are as drastic as quickly.
The third major change lets schools offer flavored low-fat milk, which had previously been banned. CSPI notes that there are no "calorie or sugar limits" on the milk that's now allowed. Perdue has previously argued that letting schools to serve chocolate milk could encourage kids to drink it, according to Sacramento's ABC 10. He declared in 2017, "I wouldn't be as big as I am today without chocolate milk."
Obama's rules received backlash when they were first implemented, according to Politico. But public opinion seems to be in favor of them right now; in 2015, a W. K. Kellogg Foundation poll found that 86 percent of the country supported the regulations, and a 2018 CSPI poll found that 60 percent of people disagreed with the Trump administration's decision to roll them back.
Now, the rollback to the rule is seeing some pushback. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) put out a statement on Thursday declaring that the new rules put "politics before children's health." Vice President for Nutrition Margo G. Wootan wrote, "Parents will be disappointed when they learn that the meals served to their kids in school are under attack from President Trump’s deregulatory agenda."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture press release, the new rules will appear in the Federal Register later in December.