Biden administration seeks to toughen school nutrition standards

by Jacob Fuller


School meals for millions of children in the United States would include less added sugar, more whole grains, and lower sodium content under new standards proposed by the Biden administration on Friday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the updated standards, which would be rolled out over the next several years, were essential to tackling health concerns like childhood obesity and to preparing young people for adult life.

“This is a national security imperative. It’s a healthcare imperative for our children. It’s an equity issue. It’s an educational achievement issue. And it’s an economic competitiveness issue,” he said Friday on a live-streamed event announcing the standards.

About 30 million students eat school lunches and 15 million eat school breakfasts each year, according to Department of Agriculture data.

The Biden administration committed to updating school meal nutrition standards as part of its strategy laid out at a conference on hunger last year.

Under the proposed standards, by fall 2024, schools would need to offer whole grain products. By fall 2025, there would be limits for high-sugar products like cereals and yogurts, added sugar in flavored milks, and sodium. Future years would see additional limits on added sugar and sodium.

The debate over what school meals should contain has spanned several administrations. The Obama administration hiked standards by requiring schools to serve fruits and vegetables every day and offer more whole-grain foods. Under the Trump administration, some of those requirements were rolled back.

The Food Research & Action Center, a leading nutrition and hunger group, cheered Friday’s announcement.

“These proposed evidence-based standards will make for a healthier school day,” said FRAC president Luis Guardia in a statement.

USDA will collect comments on the proposed rule.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters