Study may breathe new life into school lunch food fight

Prompted by soaring childhood obesity rates, former-President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 in an effort to increase the consumption of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, while reducing access to foods with higher amounts of fat, sodium and sugar.

Among the changes, the law required that schools offer at least two milk choices: plain or flavored fat-free or low-fat milk — a shift from the prior rule that schools simply serve milk in a variety of fat contents.

Now, new research analyzing 28 studies including data on almost 21,000 children ranging in ages 1-18 suggests that the move to fat-free milks may not have the intended effect. Eighteen of the studies showed children who drank milk with higher fat content were less likely to become obese than their peers who drank reduced-fat milk.

Researchers led by Shelley Vanderhout with the University of Toronto noted that while “international guidelines that recommend reduced-fat milk for children might not lower the risk of childhood obesity,” more research is needed to determine the specific level of cow-milk fat that reduced children’s obesity risk in the studies analyzed.

The findings come on the heels of the failed Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 — authored by Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) — which would have rolled back some of the school nutrition standards passed under the Obama administration. The bill would have allowed schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve flavored and unflavored whole milk.

Supporters of the bill noted at the time that bringing whole milk back into the cafeteria was the next step following the Trump Administration’s move to relax school-lunch nutrition rules put in place during the Obama Administration.

It’s possible this latest study will be cited as grounds to revive Peterson and Thompson’s efforts from last year.