Child Nutrition Act
The House acted first this year in reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act by passing H.R. 3873, the Child Nutrition Improvement and Integrity Act of 2004, on March 24, 2004 by a vote of 419-5. The legislation purports to ensure access to federally supported meal programs for eligible children, improve the quality of meals served by federal child nutrition programs and enhance program integrity.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee has yet to report a complimentary bill on child nutrition. It is expected that the Committee will do so by the summer of 2004, although it is not clear whether the Agriculture Committee will simply adopt the House-passed language or introduce its own version. Delays in introducing a Senate bill involve determination of Senate Budget Resolution moneys available for the child nutrition programs.
The House Bill includes a number of provisions that the Weston A. Price Foundation promoted in its testimony or supported as proposals from other organizations. Our comments are in brackets.
- H.R. 3873 requires every local school district to have developed a local wellness policy by the first day of the 2006 school year. The policy must include goals for nutrition education and physical activity, include nutrition guidelines for foods sold in schools, and establish a plan to ensure implementation. The policy must be developed in consultation with parents, students, school food service professionals, school boards, school administrators, and the public. [Weston A. Price Foundation local chapters and members can play a significant roll in assisting in the creation of the “local wellness policies” that actually promote wellness and not profits for the food industry. However, without considerable effort in each school district, nutrition policies that stress imitation foods are likely to continue.]
- The legislation supports nutrition education, improved meal quality, and access to local foods. H.R. 3873 authorizes a Team Nutrition Network to promote health through nutrition education and physical activity, and authorizes state and local grants to states and local school districts to develop and implement model programs to improve student health through nutrition education and physical fitness promotion. [Whether this will benefit students depends on what is meant by “health nutrition education” and “improved meal quality.”]
- An initiative to support partnerships between schools and local produce farms is authorized as a Farm to Cafeteria Program. This program is to be administered under the Team Nutrition Program.
- H.R. 3873 extends authorization of the Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, which makes free fresh and dried fruits and fresh vegetables available to students in pilot states and schools. [We’d like to see this extended to local meat, eggs and dairy products.]
- H.R. 3873 does not extend authorization of the Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program because of budgetary concerns, but strongly supports the continuation of this program, which makes free fresh and dried fruits and fresh vegetables available to students in 25 schools in each of four states and students in schools on one Indian reservation.
- Fruits and vegetables are to be added to the list of preferred agricultural commodities purchased by USDA. (They can be fresh, frozen or canned). [This provision has the potential to militate against small farm production of fruits and vegetables.]
- The availability of foods containing whole grains is promoted by requiring the USDA to develop regulations to improve the availability of whole grains in school meals. [Nothing here about the proper preparation of those grains, but it is a good first step.]
- To encourage the continued promotion of breastfeeding among Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program participants, the bill requires USDA to partner with communities, State and local agencies, employers, health care professionals, and the private sector to build a supportive breastfeeding environment for women participating in the WIC program.
- USDA is required to develop policy and establish procedures regarding the purchase, distribution, notice of consumption, and provision of information regarding irradiated foods served by federal school meal programs. [This will serve to alert parents to the possibility of schools serving irradiated foods in school lunches.]
- The House bill would permit schools, at their option, to offer children, with parental consent, a non-dairy beverage, such as soy milk, that meets nutrition standards established by USDA that are equivalent to those for cow’s milk. Children must request a non-dairy beverage because of a medical or other special dietary need, and schools must report to USDA if they make non-dairy beverages available to students. Cow’s milk served in schools can be of any fat content, not just whole milk. [A partial victory–the industry wanted soy beverages to be freely available. But the provision of reduced-fat milks will mean that most children will be receiving reduced amounts of important fats.]
The House report on H.R. 3873, which provides a very detailed analysis of the bill and justification for its provisions, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/z?cp108:hr445.108.
Dietary Guidelines and Obesity
The federally-mandated Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee met for the second and third times in January and March of this year. The Committee is to provide their recommendations on revising the Dietary Guidelines by the end of June, 2004. During the January meeting, the public had an opportunity to testify. Dr. Mary Enig, our vice president and chief science advisor, presented her views on trans fatty acids and saturated fats. The Committee has taken a stand that these fats, including cholesterol, should be minimized in our food intake, recommending that saturated fat intake should represent no more than 10 percent of our daily caloric intake, while total fat consumption should be between 20 and 35 percent of calories.
Dr. Enig testified that saturated fats are, in fact, healthy for the human body and should not be restricted. She also emphasized that trans fats are not in any way similar to saturated fats in molecular structure and biologic activity. But in spite of ample evidence that saturated fats are not responsible for heart disease, the Committee still hews to this belief system. In fact, their latest suggestion is that the consumption of saturated fats, cholesterol and trans fatty acids should be minimized because all three “increase serum levels of LDL (low density lipoproteins).” They ignore the fact that there is little if any connection between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels. Studies demonstrate that dietary cholesterol increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol with essentially no change in the important LDL: HDL cholesterol ratio. The Committee repeatedly chooses to ignore this fact. It was interesting to note that Fergus Clydesdale, PhD of the University of Massachusetts suggested that the United States is very hung up on the use of tropical oils (e.g. coconut oil, high in saturated fats) while European freely use such oils.
During the March meeting, the Fatty Acid subcommittee of the Advisory Committee chaired by Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, of Penn State University, suggested that trans fatty acids now comprise about 2.6 percent of caloric intake of the average American. This is the average–for many groups, particularly teenagers, the trans intake is likely much higher. The European Union recommends trans fatty acid consumption be less than 2 percent of calories while the World Health Organization recommends less than 1 percent of calories be from trans fatty acids. At their next meeting, the Fatty Acid subcommittee will present its recommendation on the limits of trans fatty consumption in the U.S.
Other recommendations of the Committee include:
- Omega-6 essential fatty acids should comprise from 5 to 10 percent of daily calories while omega 3 EFA should be about 2 percent of calories.
- Americans should consume at least 2 servings of fish per week (those fish that are not high in mercury levels).
- Individuals over 50 years of age should consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take B12 supplements in crystalline form.
- Americans should exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
The next meeting is scheduled for May 26-27, 2004. A detailed summary of the first meeting of the Committee held in September, 2003 can be found at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/minutes09_2324_2003.htm.
FDA’s Obesity Work Group released its findings on February 11, 2004. The Weston A. Price Foundation testified before the Group several times in late 2003 (see Foundation Update, Winter 2003). The FDA found that the problem of obesity has no single cause. Rather, it is the result of numerous factors acting together over time. Similarly, there will be no single solution; obesity will be brought under control only as a result of numerous coordinated, complementary efforts from a variety of sectors of society. Nor can this problem be solved quickly. Any long-lasting reversal of this phenomenon will itself be a long-term process, according to the FDA.
Their recommendations are centered on the “scientific fact” that weight control is primarily a function of balance of the calories eaten and calories expended on physical and metabolic activity. The recommendations contained in the report focus on a “calories count” emphasis for FDA actions. Rather than look at the significant changes in our food supply and the impact of industrialized foods and agriculture on our physiology, FDA limited its recommendations to calories consumed and used. The complete report can be found at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/owg-toc.html.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2004.