USDA Proposed Changes to School Nutrition Standards

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In 2020, Healthy Eating Research conducted a rapid HIA to inform proposed changes to the USDA’s nutrition standards for school meal programs. The HIA found that the implementation of strong nutrition standards following passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 resulted in healthier, more well-balanced meals and that these improvements have significant short- and long-term positive implications for child health and cognitive performance. Specifically, the HIA found that strong nutrition standards improve the healthfulness of meals available, selected, and consumed by children both at school and at home; increase participation in the school meal programs; increase food security; and improve cognitive functioning without a negative financial effect on schools.

The HIA predicted that the changes to school meal and smart snack nutrition standards as proposed by USDA could reverse these gains and likely have adverse impacts on their overall health, food security, and academic performance. The report concluded that weakened standards would harm children from underresourced families, most notably those from low-income, low-educated households in rural areas and predominantly Black schools, exacerbating existing food insecurity and chronic disease conditions.

The HIA recommended that USDA maintain strong nutrition standards for all foods served and sold in schools, support school food authorities in meeting those standards via enhanced training and technical assistance, and invest in school kitchen equipment and infrastructure. The HIA also recommended that, should USDA move forward with the proposed policy, the agency prioritize monitoring and evaluation of the effects of those changes.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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