The first limits on added sugar in school meals were just announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this past February. The goal is to reduce added sugars to less than 10% total calories per week by the start of the 2027 academic year. These new rules will also limit sodium content. These new guidelines are overdue after years of work by the sugar industry to prevent such an outcome.
These changes are necessary after years of ignoring the role of sugar in childhood obesity. The sugar industry has invested time and resources into deceiving the public. During the 1960s, a literature review did untold damage by blaming heart disease on fat content instead of sugar for cardiac disease and other negative health effects. The study ignored sound research for arbitrary reasons that seemed like they were drawn out of thin air.
The study was funded by the sugar industry, a fact that was not disclosed anywhere in the review. The reasoning for this deception was said to be that the standards for transparency in the scientific community did not dictate a disclosure. Research published in legitimate journals has the power to shape scientific conversation, and this paper did just that.
Because of research such as this and the influence of the sugar lobby, nutrition standards favored a low fat content without regulating sugar intake. Over 90% of school breakfasts had a calorie content of at least 10% added sugar, while almost 70% served lunches with a calorie content of at least 10% added sugar. This is a long-term and widespread issue.
The harm done by high sugar content school meals can’t be understated. Since the 1970s, the number of youths who have been affected by obesity has tripled. The limited budget schools have to feed children, and ineffective recommendations are a driving force behind childhood obesity. Furthermore, school lunches are a major source of nutrition for some children, specifically those living in food deserts.
There’s no way to fully quantify how much of an impact industry-funded research and the far-reaching efforts of the sugar lobby have had on federal nutritional guidelines, but it is extensive. These new nutritional guidelines are a step toward addressing the sugar addiction that has been pushed onto students since the 1960s.