American Heart Association Urges Swift Passage of Senate Child Nutrition Bill

Legislation preserves nutrition standards for school meals

January 20, 2016 Categories: Advocacy News

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2016 – American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown issued the following comments on the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,” which was approved today by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee:  

“Overall, this bill is a win for children’s health that builds on the strong progress we’ve made in the last several years. While we worked hard in support of the original science-based nutrition standards for school meals, we support the Senate and its admirable job of crafting a compromise on sodium and whole grains standards so the bill could move forward.

We are particularly pleased that sodium reduction is moving forward with just a two-year extension on the next target, and that target three is on track for the 2022 school year. This agreement demonstrates that the science is clear on the need to lower sodium to moderate levels in school meals. This is an issue of critical importance because kids are consuming too much salt, and without reasonable sodium reduction, many of them will develop high blood pressure during their lifetime that could lead to premature heart disease, strokes and other chronic health issues. Schools across the country are already meeting the target two sodium level, and this revised schedule will give the schools still working towards this goal the time they need to achieve it. The subsequent comprehensive assessment of the sodium nutrition standard will help pinpoint the next steps for reaching the final target that brings sodium in school meals to the optimal level for children’s health.

The association also appreciates that the bill keeps the majority of the whole grains standard intact, in contrast to the current waiver system that allows foods to be held to a significantly lower nutritional standard. Ultimately, this compromise will also help ensure that the industry continues full speed ahead to develop innovative solutions for sodium and whole grains in the products it is providing to schools.

The legislation makes kids’ health a priority in many other ways. No changes were made to competitive foods, which extend healthful standards to foods sold in schools beyond the meal programs. The committee adopted other proposals we advocated for, including recommendations for training and technical assistance for school food service professionals, as well as nutrition education programs. Furthermore, the bill includes valuable provisions that support salad bars in schools, funding for school kitchen equipment and farm to school programs. 

We are concerned about provisions that alter the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. We commend the committee for maintaining the ultimate goal of the program – providing students with a fresh fruit or vegetable snack – and we urge that no further actions are taken that degrade the integrity of the program moving forward. The current program plays a unique role by providing the poorest children in our country with much-needed exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. 

We sincerely hope this bill ends the long ‘food fight’ over school meal standards. The association thanks Senators Roberts and Stabenow for leading the charge on a bipartisan agreement to ensure America’s students are served heart-healthy school meals, with less sodium and more whole grains. This legislation will undoubtedly help children achieve better long-term health and academic success. That’s why the association urges swift passage of this bill by both the Senate and the House.”

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Media Contact: Abbey Dively (202) 785-7905 abbey.dively@heart.org