In comments submitted last week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, IDFA offered several proposals that would help to address growing government and congressional concerns about childhood obesity and nutrition. Aware that Congress is preparing for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act next year, IDFA focused attention on the importance of including lowfat and fat-free milk and other reduced-fat dairy products in federal feeding programs to improve the overall nutritional value of school meals and snacks.
Every five years Congress is required to review and reauthorize current federal child nutrition programs under the Child Nutrition Act, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Women, Infants and Children Program. The last reauthorization was in 2004.
In recent years, Congress and some states have tried to address the issue of childhood obesity by proposing legislation that would stringently reduce the number of calories allowed in school milk and limit the amount and types of cheese served in schools lunches and snacks. USDA and Congress would like to use these federal nutrition programs as a role model for healthy eating.
In its comments, IDFA recommended setting a reasonable limit on calories and fat content that will encourage students to choose healthy foods and ensure that they're getting the nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet. The comments point out that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans allow for small amounts of sugar to be added to nutrient-dense foods, like lowfat milk and yogurt, to make them more palatable to children and increase nutrient intake.
"IDFA and its members believe that dairy products provide a unique nutrient profile and give children nutrients that they otherwise might not consume," the comments state.
IDFA's comments emphasized the need to fully fund the continued availability of lower-fat milk and lower-fat cheese varieties that are purchased centrally by USDA for the school programs. In addition, IDFA called for the Secretary of Agriculture to have the authority to apply the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with their emphasis on lowfat and fat-free dairy products, to all food and beverages provided in federal school meal programs and in other school settings.
IDFA also included recommendations for the WIC program that would increase the allowable level of dairy products that can be substituted for milk and allow yogurt and more reduced-fat cheeses. According to IDFA, these changes will make dairy products more attractive to WIC participants, and they were left out of the recent update to WIC food packages.
Several IDFA members also submitted separate comments or statements to USDA with similar recommendations. The comments from Lactalis America, for example, state that "lowfat and non-fat dairy has its own 'wedge' in the USDA food pyramid. Maintaining availability of cheese in the school nutrition programs and WIC will encourage continued, and possibly increased, consumption."
- IDFA comments, October 15, 2008
- Lactalis America, October 15, 2008
- Leprino Foods Company, September 11, 2008
- Galliker Dairy Company, August 6, 2008
- Marva Maid, August 6, 2008
- Plains Dairy, July 10, 2008
In fiscal year 2007, the federal government spent more than $20 billion on child nutrition programs, and these programs are important to the dairy industry. The federal school programs represented 5.6 percent of all U.S. fluid milk sales in 2006. For the $3.6 billion spent on food under the WIC program in 2005, milk accounted for $1.4 billion (28.9 percent), cheese represented $498 million (13.8 percent) and infant formula accounted for $628 million (17.4 percent).
For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA senior director of policy and legislative affairs, at 202-220-3553 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling, at email@example.com or 202-737-4332.