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Dairy Facts 2016

GAO Highlights Challenges of School Meal Changes

Oct 21, 2015

The Government Accountability Office last week released new findings about the challenges schools continue to have with implementing changes in nutrition standards to the National School Lunch Program. In its report, GAO said students were seen throwing away all or some of their milk, and school officials said reducing sodium in bread, meat and cheese to meet future targets would be difficult. The program’s guidance on smoothies, which can include yogurt, was also mentioned in the report.

Reason for the Review

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts and to add standards for competitive foods sold in schools. After review, USDA established new requirements, including limits on calories, sodium and fats, which included limiting the type of milk that can be served to low-fat or nonfat white milk and nonfat flavored milk. GAO has analyzed the implementation of several of these changes, and this study continued those efforts for the past school year.

According to the study, participation in the National School Lunch Program declined 4.5 percent, dropping 1.4 million children, during a four-year period ending in 2014. School officials in seven of the eight states where GAO conducted interviews reported that “challenges with student acceptance of changes made to comply with new federal nutrition requirements” contributed to the decrease.

Supports the Need for The School Milk Act

The results on milk dovetail with industry data that encouraged Representatives G.T. Thompson (R-PA) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) to introduce The School Milk Nutrition Act of 2015 as part of the child nutrition reauthorization efforts. IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation have been working to gain support for The School Milk Nutrition Act, introduced in May, noting that schools served 187 million fewer half-pints of milk from 2012 to 2014, although total public school enrollment grew during that period.

The School Milk Nutrition Act aims to increase milk consumption in schools by reaffirming the requirement that milk is offered with each school meal and to improve the variety and availability of milk served in schools.

IDFA also has been actively working on the Hill to keep dairy products in a prominent spot when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act is considered for reauthorization this fall.

“As Congress considers changes to the child nutrition programs in the reauthorization process, the requirement to offer milk with each school lunch should be retained, and schools should have a choice to offer either fat-free or low-fat flavored milk consistent with the Dietary Guidelines,” said Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs.

IDFA also supports other changes to the program that will increase participation and ensure that children maintain access to healthy dairy products.

For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at

Read “USDA Has Efforts Underway to Help Address Ongoing Challenges Implementing Changes in Nutrition Standards.”

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