Many children in Alabama get less healthy school lunches after the Trump administration’s rollback of rules that had set nutritional standards.
Alabama’s Attorney General Steve Marshall favors lower standards for the state’s school children’s lunches, as well.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s children are ranked 9th highest in rates of obesity in the nation. Advocates for healthier lunches and health organizations are hoping the courts reverse the changes.
The nonprofit, Washington D.C.-based legal services group, Democracy Forward, filed suit against the Trump administration in April on behalf of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Rockville, MD-based nonprofit Healthy School Food Maryland.
The complaint argues that the administration’s rollback of nutritional guidelines violates standards mandated by Congress in 2012, and that the government failed to provide valid reasons for the move. The Obama administration’s standards allowed for a gradual step up for schools to meet the guidelines.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in December 2018, adopted new rules put out by the Trump Administration to allow for around 300 milligrams more salt, fewer whole grains and more chocolate milk in school lunches.
On Sept. 6, AG Marshall signed onto a joint court brief expressing support for the rollback.
“Needlessly onerous federal nutrition requirements should not stand in the way of state and local decisions about how best to educate and provide nutrition for their students,” the brief states.
Charisma Troiano, spokeswoman for Democracy Forward, told APR on Tuesday that the administration has said the meals don’t taste as good and cost more.
“This case is about how the Trump administration has ignored not just the law, but also science to roll back school [meal] nutrition standards that affect you know close to 30 million children across the country,” Troiano said. “Nutrition science is very clear that diets that are low in sodium, that are high in whole grains are essential.”
Diets high in sodium and low in whole grains put kids at a greater risks of developing heart disease and hypertension, and can lead to strokes and obesity, Troiano said.
After the Trump administration announced plans to roll back the guidelines, the government received public comments on the move, and the majority were opposed to less healthy lunches, Troiano said.
Barbara Butler of Dadeville, Alabama wrote in her comment to the USDA that she opposed the weakening of school nutrition.
“As the grandmother of school-age children I fully support efforts like sodium reduction in order to provide healthy meals in schools. Please do not regress!,” Butler wrote.
Troiano noted that in Alabama in 2017, prior to the rollback, Alabama was one of several states where schools were already meeting the mandate of providing 100 percent whole-grain products in grain-based foods.
“That’s pretty significant, to have an entire state have 100 percent of their schools meeting that target, and to now have that progress eventually gutted,” Troiano said.
Among Alabama children aged 10-17, the obesity rate in 2017 was 18.2 percent, which was the 9th highest percentage in the nation, according to The State of Obesity report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Coordinated Chronic Disease Prevention 2014-2020 state plan, “Data is unavailable for prevalence of diabetes in Alabama youth” but that diabetes continues to become more common among children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 215,000 people younger than 20 years have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
While the American Heart Association came out against the loosening of the nutritional standards, calling it “Counterproductive” and that it could “jeopardize children’s’ health,” the School Nutrition Association approved the move.
“This final rule strikes a healthy balance. Schools will continue to meet strong nutrition standards but can prepare meals that appeal to a wide range of students,” said Gay Anderson, the association’s president in a press release. Nearly 2 million fewer children were choosing school lunches after the Obama administration’s changes, according to the association.
Alabama drivers can buy specialty vehicle license plates that read “Hope for kids with Diabetes” with a portion of the funds going to the Alabama Children’s Hospital Foundation.
According to Children’s of Alabama’s pediatric endocrinology division the center is treating more than 2,600 children with diabetes.