A Salty Reaction to Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act Reauthorization

With the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act up for re-authorization this month the salt lobby has reignited the battle over national sodium standards for school meals. The aforementioned act requires schools to reduce “per-lunch maximum sodium levels from 1,230 milligrams in elementary school, 1,360 mg in middle school and 1,420 in high school to 935, 1,035 and 1,080, respectively, by 2017. They would be lowered again to 640, 710 and 740 by 2022” according to The Hill.

The reduction of sodium in school meals is a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. The goals of the First Lady’s initiative are “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. Combining comprehensive strategies with common sense, Let’s Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active.”

However, leaders from the salt industry dispute the science behind reducing sodium levels. Lori Roman, the president of the Salt Institute has said, “There is absolutely no scientific basis for any population-wide sodium reduction strategy…Studies show, left to ourselves, we will naturally seek out the safe range. What I worry about is the captive people — the kids in schools, who are getting more than one meal a day or maybe one of their only meals of the day, and elderly people in nursing homes, who are put on low-sodium diets for no reason,” reports The Hill.

Furthermore, in a statement to The Hill, School Nutrition Association (SNA), President Jean Ronnei has said, “Schools are committed to reducing the sodium in school meals and snacks, but the later sodium reduction mandates are unrealistic for schools, let alone families, and will force healthy choices off the menu.”

Complicating re-authorization, in March Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced S.1146, the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act which would “prohibit the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from implementing any regulation that would require a reduction in the quantity of sodium contained in federally reimbursed meals, foods, and snacks sold in schools below specified July 2014 maximum levels allowed in school breakfasts for school year 2014-2015.” However, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is working to finish the re-authorization package of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for a committee markup on Thursday.

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