Chocolate milk, sodium-rich foods like pizza, and white bread—all contraband in public school-provided lunches since 2012—will soon be welcomed back onto lunch trays in cafeterias near you. As the Trump administration seeks to undo as much of its predecessor’s work as possible, the next item in its crosshairs has emerged: healthy school lunches for children.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Monday that his department would peel back Obama-era restrictions on high-sodium, sugary, and high-fat products as well as recommendations for more fruits and vegetables. These healthier standards had been one of first lady Michelle Obama’s priorities as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity. Perdue claimed that much of the healthy food the new standards promoted was being thrown out instead of eaten. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who joined him for the announcement, told McClatchy news service, “The youngsters at school, they were not eating the meals, and then they would go down to some fast food place and eat twice as much as they would have eaten before.”
But school breakfasts and lunches serve more than 31 million children, and data showed that the new standards were starting to work. Cecilia Muñoz, who worked on the nutrition program under Obama, told McClatchy that a measurable improvement was beginning to show up in children’s obesity statistics. “This looks like something that’s being done for the sake of industry at the expense of kids,” Muñoz said. Critics, including some school administrators, complained that the standards were expensive and overly restrictive, not to mention an example of “gross federal overreach”; but by and large, public health and nutrition advocates were in favor of the progress they represented.
Perdue’s announcement dovetails with some of House Republicans’ insertions into this week’s appropriations bill. These nutrition-related riders push back deadlines “for schools to meet lower sodium levels and prevent federal funds from paying salaries of any government officials to implement the nutrition standards,” among other rollbacks, according to McClatchy.
An easing of nutritional standards will enable more students to model their diets after President Trump himself, a man who has made no secret of his taste for junk food—recall the Lay’s potato chips in the White House, the “beautiful” piece of chocolate cake he was eating when he ordered a military strike on Syria. But not everyone has the resources Trump does to stave off poor health (a private chef, good insurance, a team of doctors), and for the rest of us, especially children, eating too much sugary, high-sodium, and high-fat food and not enough fruits and vegetables will lead to health problems and/or obesity. Trump also has been quick to show that he doesn’t look kindly on being overweight, god forbid obese—remember when he body-shamed a beauty pageant winner, or called Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig”?—and harsh social judgements are just one of the challenges living with obesity brings.
With better school lunch standards, the U.S. had finally found one way to confront the obesity crisis that was working. Someone should tell Trump that doing away with these improvements will only contribute to creating a generation of children who’ll never live up to his lofty physical ideals. If the value of good nutrition can’t convince him to turn his administration around on this issue, maybe his shallow love of good looks can.