The following is attributed to Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., and Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
One of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s top priorities is to improve the health of Americans through better nutrition. We are pleased to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service’s final rule issued today on transitional nutrition standards for school-based meals, an action that supports ongoing whole-of-government efforts to improve nutrition, reduce chronic disease and help create a healthier food supply for all.
As a nation, we are seeing a growing epidemic of preventable, diet-related chronic diseases and increasing obesity rates over the past few decades. It is a disturbing trend, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and experienced disproportionately by racial and ethnic minority groups. One way to turn the tide on diet-related chronic diseases is through improved nutrition—a common goal that is shared by many of our federal partners as exhibited today with USDA’s final rule.
One of the FDA’s signature efforts to improve our nation’s nutrition is focused on reducing the level of sodium in the food supply. The FDA took a critical step to help reduce sodium through a recently released guidance that establishes voluntary sodium reduction targets in processed, packaged and prepared foods. The USDA’s rule provides transitional standards for school meals to move towards more nutritious meals—including ones that are lower in sodium.
The USDA rule notes that their transitional sodium standards align with the FDA’s short-term voluntary sodium reduction targets, which in turn are anticipated to support a gradual sodium reduction strategy for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The rule also reflects the importance of the FDA’s efforts moving forward to support broad, gradual reduction of sodium intake.
While this rule focuses on healthier eating for children at school, a large percentage of children’s sodium intake may also be from outside the school environment, including at home. The vast majority of our nation’s children exceed recommended daily limits for sodium, increasing their risk for negative health outcomes.
Today’s action, coupled with the FDA’s recent guidance, may further encourage industry to lower sodium levels in products found in schools, at home and beyond. These two initiatives, which focus on school meals and the broader food environment, act in concert to improve dietary patterns and reduce average sodium intake. They are anticipated to meaningfully improve the health and well-being of the nation—specifically our children, one of our most vulnerable populations. It is our hope that these, and other subsequent actions, will help give our children a stronger nutrition foundation to live longer, healthier lives.
While our nutrition work at the FDA is important, we recognize that we are just one part of the nutrition ecosystem tasked to help enable people to improve their diets. This type of all-of-government coordination is also necessary to help reverse the course of diet-related chronic diseases and the disproportionate burden experienced by racial and ethnic minority groups. We at the FDA are doing our part and commend the USDA for their action today. If we are successful in our coordinated efforts, we could dramatically reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, advance health equity and make an impact on the health of future generations.