Forget the Gipper, Michelle Obama has finally won one — for herself. The first lady joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday to announce the administration would double-down on its push for healthier school lunches with a marketing ban on junk food and sugary drinks.
The administration would require marketers to comply with new standards for federally subsidized school lunches set for the 2014-15 school year as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. By closing the vending machine loophole, health proponents hope to slow a national obesity epidemic by compelling students to choose healthier options over candies and soda.
"The idea here is simple — our classrooms should be healthy places where kids aren't bombarded with ads for junk food," Michelle Obama said. "Because when parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn't be undone by unhealthy messages at school.”
Under the new regulations, even the iconic Coca-Cola insignia on the gymnasium scoreboard must go.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the new rules would prevent school districts from selling campus marketing rights to corporate America. “You can’t market what you can’t see,” she told Politico. The law “will make sure that schools can’t promote unhealthy meals in schools that undermine the new standards or nutrition education.”
Wootan and other observers say they’re unsure how industry would react to further regulation of marketing toward American schoolchildren. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the industry responds to this,” she said. “It’s going to be much harder for them to make the case against this because they already can’t sell those products.”
Still, the American Beverage Association has made its best effort to escape villainy in the public eye, praising the first lady for “common-sense efforts to strengthen school wellness policies, including support for aligning food and beverage signage in schools to reflect what is allowed under regulations.” The trade group says the industry has already moved to implement new voluntary guidelines intended to wean America’s schoolchildren from sugary beverages to more nutritious foods and drinks.
Since initiating her "Let’s Move!" campaign four years ago, Michelle Obama has drawn criticism from conservatives hellbent on preserving our American right to drown in empty calories, saturated fats, and unholy vegetable oils — as well as from industry members making a mint on school vending machines.
In recent months, the first lady has also faced the ire of politicians and health advocates increasingly impatient with the administration’s progress on nutritional standards, even accusing the Obamas of abandoning the issue during the 2012 midterm elections. "They went wobbly in the knees," Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, told Reuters at the time [...] "I'm upset with the White House [...] When it comes to kids' health, they shouldn't go wobbly in the knees."
Likewise, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine lamented that the administration had chosen the “noncontroversial” route then to emphasizing exercise over upgraded nutritional standards.
The new rules now stipulate specific limits on calories, fat, sugar, and salt in all foods sold during the school day on 100,000 campuses across the country. Additionally, the administration will require schools to develop wellness policies setting local standards for foods, exercise, and other “wellness activities” to be sponsored by schools. However, those local standards represent not a top-down ruling from the White House but a chance for parents, teachers, and members of the community to advise newer standards for a healthier generation.