Institute of Medicine School Food Recommendations Should Be Law of the Land, Says CSPI

Harkin-Murkowski Bill Would Require USDA to Update Old Nutrition Standards


WASHINGTON—The nutrition standards proposed today by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) for foods and drinks sold in vending machines, cafeteria a la carte lines, and elsewhere on school grounds are far superior to the current national school food standards, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 30-year-old standards for foods sold alongside the official school meals were designed to make sure American school children got enough of certain vitamins and nutrients, the new IOM standards take into account things children today are consuming too much of, namely calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium, and caffeine.

The IOM report adds to the momentum for national legislation to get junk food out of schools.

“The difference between the current USDA and new IOM school food standards is night and day,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “Congress should support parents and protect kids by having USDA bring its disco-era nutrition standards in line with modern science.”

Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are spearheading bipartisan legislation (S. 771) which would require USDA to update its school nutrition standards, and apply those standards to the whole school day and everywhere on campus. Current regulations only restrict the sale of soda, jelly beans, and other foods of minimal nutritional value in the cafeteria, and only during mealtimes. The current standards classify seltzer water, a drink CSPI considers a healthy alternative to soda, as a junk food merely because it has no vitamins or minerals. But French fries, chocolate bars, and potato chips are currently considered acceptable, regardless of their serving size, calories, saturated or trans fat, or sodium.

If adopted, the IOM recommendations would all but expel soda and sugary drinks from schools. Caffeine-free diet soda could be available in high school only after school, and Gatorade-style sports drinks would only be available to students engaged in sports programs which include more than an hour of vigorous physical activity.

“USDA should be encouraging the availability and sale of healthy foods in schools, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and reasonable portions of low-fat milk and real fruit juice,” said Wootan. “There’s enough junk food available in society without putting it in schools. Our kids deserve better than junk.”

CSPI has an online quiz that illustrates the arbitrary and obsolete standards the USDA uses for school foods.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]