When we began our Let’s Move! initiative four years ago, we set one simple but ambitious goal: to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation so that kids born today will grow up healthy…

Today, we are seeing glimmers of progress. Tens of millions of kids are getting better nutrition in school; families are thinking more carefully about food they eat, cook and buy; companies are rushing to create healthier products to meet the growing demand; and the obesity rate is finally beginning to fall from its peak among our youngest children…

Yet some members of the House of Representatives are now threatening to roll back these new standards and lower the quality of food our kids get in school. They want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches…

Our children deserve so much better than this. Even with the progress we have made, one in three children in this country is still overweight or obese. One in three is expected to develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. And this isn’t just about our children’s health; it’s about the health of our economy as well. We already spend an estimated $190 billion a year treating obesity-related conditions. Just think about what those numbers will look like in a decade or two if we don’t start solving this problem now.

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The House Appropriations Committee voted, 31-18, Thursday to advance a fiscal 2015 agriculture spending bill with a controversial rider that would allow schools to opt out of nutrition rules requiring more fruits and vegetables, less sodium and more whole grain-rich products if they are losing money from the healthier meals…

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, told POLITICO after the vote that he’s confident Republicans will ultimately prevail in giving school districts the option of a waiver…

White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to the House Appropriations Committee action during the daily briefing on Thursday, calling the rider on school lunches “a provision that replaces the judgment of doctors and nutritionists with the opinions of politicians regarding what is healthy for our kids.”

“The House Republican proposal would undercut school nutrition standards that have already been successfully implemented in over 90% of schools,” Carney said. “These are the same people who just last year declared pizza as a vegetable and who now think that decisions about kids’ health should be made by politicians instead of pediatricians.”

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At the White House event, school nutrition directors from New York City to Los Angeles to a rural county in Georgia told the first lady success stories about implementing the standards and said they would be disappointed to see any roll backs.

“We’re not just talking about food, we’re talking about education,” said David Binkle of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said participation is up in his district, along with test scores and graduation rates, since they made school foods healthier there.

The first lady asked the group for advice about how they can better respond to schools that are struggling, and suggested that the conversation should be focused on helping those schools rather than rolling back some of the standards completely. She said the government and schools can also do more to work with students to get them interested in what they are eating.

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According the USDA, some 90 percent of schools are in compliance with new rules, as outlined in January 2012. In the fall, there are lower sodium mandates, and the rules expand to food sold outside the cafeteria and inside the cafeteria. The USDA said Wednesday that schools can have a two-year waiver from the requirement that pasta be more than half whole grains. But these latest rules, which include serving 100 percent whole-grain products rather than the current 50 percent requirement, are onerous and potentially budget-busting, some school districts contend

“Many families in the Southwest will not accept whole grain tortillas. Schools can’t change cultural preferences. And with sky-high produce costs, we simply cannot afford to feed our trash cans. Every penny spent on whole grains and produce needs to go into the mouth of a hungry child.” Lyman Graham, Food Service Director, Roswell ISD, Carlsbad Municipal and Dexter Consolidated Schools (NM)Come September, there will be new guidelines for foods sold outside of the cafeteria in vending machines and at bake sales as well. Lynn Harvey, Chief, Child Nutrition Services, North Carolina Dept. of Public Instruction…

The SNA calls it “plate waste” — kids just dumping what they don’t want in the garbage — and they also point to declining school lunch and breakfast participation rates. A Government Accountability Office study released in January did find a decline in the number of kids who buy school lunch, yet attributed much of the decline to a drop in the number of students paying full price, a trend that began in 2007, but was especially high in 2012, the year the new rules were implemented.

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Attending a school lunch with his 10-year-old grandson over Thanksgiving recess last year, Ribble said he witnessed the consequences of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, such as food waste.

“We watched child after child after child have an empty apple core,” he said. “They ate the apple and threw away pounds and pounds of fresh broccoli. It was astounding.”

“Almost every single plate got thrown away with the food,” Ribble said. “Healthy eating has more to do with what children like and how you can help shape those tastes than it is just with some policy decision that some mom wants to make. We’d all like to have our kids eat broccoli, I know my mom wanted me to eat broccoli. I never ate it. I never liked it. I like it now as an adult, but it has to be prepared with lots of Wisconsin cheese on it.”

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More than a million kids confronted by healthier school lunches are turning up their noses, leaving the cafeteria and heading out to get a burger instead…

Agriculture Department statistics show the number of school children in the National School Lunch Program dropped from 31.8 million in 2011 to 30.7 million in 2013.

School boards are asking Congress to allow schools to opt out. Some schools are raiding their teaching budgets to cover the costs of mounds of wasted fruits and vegetables, Lucy Gettman of the National School Boards Association said.

“Every school is probably impacted a little bit differently … there isn’t comprehensive data available,” she said. She noted that one school district in Alaska reported having to transfer $135,000 from its education budget to meet the new requirements — and that the incident was far from unique.

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A report by local Washington D.C. news station NBC4 indicates that over 60,000 low-income students in the metro area are skipping lunch, dissatisfied with the food offered to them by their schools…

The kids’ failure to eat is costing the schools big money, as they lose $3 in federal subsidies every time a student on free lunch forgoes taking a meal. That’s $180,000 a day, adding up to over $32 million in a school year lasting approximately 180 days. School officials say the lost subsidies are straining their budgets, as they need the money to pay for healthier food options mandated by Congress.

It isn’t new information that many children are rejecting the food offered them. A January report from the Government Accountability Office suggested that many students were rejecting healthier lunches because they did not enjoy the food offered. Another suggested factor was that students avoided eating a free lunch because they would be stigmatized as poor.

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When it comes to schoolkids, Mrs. Obama is just as emphatic that decisions are best made in Washington, rather than in the countless cafeterias of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. Some House members, she writes, “want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.”…

According to a new Centers for Disease Control study, the obesity rate among kids that age is 8 percent, down from 14 percent in 2003. That’s all well and good, but the authors caution that one year doesn’t make a trend, especially since that group makes up “a tiny fraction” of the population. Indeed, the same report also notes that obesity rates among Americans 19 years and younger had already stopped climbing by 2003 and has been flat ever since, at around 17 percent. Other accounts suggest that youth obesity rates peaked even earlier, in 1999. Over the same general time frame, adult obesity rates have stayed steady around 30 percent. This all came after a tripling of rates between the 1970s and 1990s…

[I]f we can’t trust our schools to figure out how best to fill their students’ stomachs, why the hell are we forcing our children to attend such institutions in the first place? When is the last time you heard kids who attend schools of choice—whether private, religious, or public charters (which enroll disproportionately high numbers of low-income students)—even mention food?

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