WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2024 — Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health that is celebrating 100 years of saving lives, issued the following statement in response to today’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of a final rule that will more closely align school meal standards with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

“We are pleased to see the USDA using science to make school meals healthier than ever before. With this final rule, the department is helping to ensure that the nearly 30 million children who rely on school meals are getting the proper nutrients to help them succeed in the classroom and have a healthy future. Strong nutrition standards are critical in efforts to improve nutrition security and health equity, while also reducing diet-related chronic disease.

“School meals are one of the healthiest sources of food for students, but many children continue to consume too much sodium and added sugars, and too few whole grains. These updated standards will put even healthier meals on the menu by establishing a limit for added sugars, requiring further sodium reductions and continuing to emphasize the importance of eating whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

“For the first time ever, the USDA will cap the amount of added sugars in school meals, a major stride in helping children achieve a more nutritious diet and better health. Added sugars are a significant source of excess calories, provide no nutritional value and may cause weight gain and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. We are thrilled to see the USDA has followed the recommendations from a 2022 citizen petition from the American Heart Association and other public health groups to include an added sugars standard in this final rule.

“However, we are disappointed that the USDA did not establish an added sugars product limit for grain-based desserts, such as cereal bars, doughnuts and toaster pastries, as originally proposed, and that the whole grain standard does not fully align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, we are discouraged that the final rule makes only slight sodium reductions and does not require more significant reductions over time. While we understand recent legislation limited the USDA’s ability to go further on sodium reduction, we hope that in the future the USDA will work with schools and industry to continue lowering sodium in school meals to healthy levels, and that Congress will not impede this work. 

“Nevertheless, the updated standards are an important step forward and we applaud the agency for continuing to move in the right direction. Research shows that strong school meal nutrition standards result in healthier food and drinks being served to children and increase participation in school meal programs, leading to improved nutrition and food security. Surveys also show that educators, parents and, most importantly, students enjoy healthier meals.

“We greatly appreciate the USDA’s commitment to improving the quality of school meals, and we are eager to see them in practice in school lunchrooms across the country. We will continue to work with the department to make school meals even more nutritious and improve children’s health. We also look forward to working with Congress to ensure the standards remain strong, and that schools are given the resources and technical assistance they need to successfully implement the updated standards.”

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About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024 - our Centennial year - we celebrate our rich 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.  

For Media Inquiries:
Arielle Beer: 202-785-7902; arielle.beer@heart.org  
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