In a letter sent to Congress on May 20, child health advocates including APHA and several APHA Affiliates strongly urged opposition to “efforts to intervene in science-based rules regarding the federal child nutrition programs.” Last week the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed the inclusion of white potatoes in the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, nutrition program — a decision that went against guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Senate committee did not include a controversial amendment that would provide a broad waiver allowing schools to opt out of all school meal standards. Instead Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced a compromise amendment to the bill that would:

  • require the USDA to identify products that schools can use in lieu of whole grain pastas and breads; and
  • report to Congress on offering technical assistance for schools struggling to meet new requirements.
Michelle Obama

First lady Michelle Obama, seen on May 27 discussing child nutrition in Washington, D.C., wrote an op-ed to the New York Times in opposition of congressional efforts to weaken nutrition standards. Photo by Letsmove.gov.

The House Appropriations Committee is currently considering its version of the bill which includes both a waiver allowing schools to opt out of all school meal standards, and the requirement that the WIC program include white potatoes. APHA and other nutrition advocates are supporting amendments to strike the controversial provisions.

Today first lady Michelle Obama also weighed in opposing changes to WIC and school meal standards in an op-ed to the New York Times.

“Now, there is nothing wrong with potatoes,” Obama said. “The problem is that many women and children already consume enough potatoes and not enough of the nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables they need. That’s why the Institute of Medicine — the nonpartisan, scientific body that advises on the standards for WIC — has said that potatoes should not be part of the WIC program.

“The bottom line is very simple: As parents, we always put our children’s interests first. We wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying about their well-being and their futures. And when we make decisions about our kids’ health, we rely on doctors and experts who can give us accurate information based on sound science. Our leaders in Washington should do the same.”

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