This fall, Congress will consider legislation to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs, including the school meals programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides nutritious foods to supplement the diets of low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to age 5. It’s been nearly a decade since Congress updated these programs, and the dairy industry is urging policymakers to make four commonsense changes to ensure that the nutritional benefits of dairy products are more accessible to children and families that participate in these programs.
Protection of new USDA rules
First, we are asking Congress to take steps to protect new USDA rules that allow low-fat (1%) flavored milk to once again be served in school cafeterias. The previous administration banned low-fat flavored milk in 2012, and as a result, school milk consumption decreased by 7% because kids didn’t like the taste of the nonfat flavored milk that was offered in its place. Therefore, a generation of milk drinkers was lost because older children and teens are less likely to drink milk if they didn’t consume it when they were younger.
The current administration has restored the low-fat flavored milk option, and according to a recent survey conducted by the National Dairy Council, school milk consumption increased in nearly 60% of the schools that are offering that option to their students. We need to make sure that future administrations don’t take us back down the same disastrous path, so we are asking Congress to enshrine the current USDA rules in statute, which will make it more difficult for future USDA leaders to undo them.
More options for WIC families
WIC families also deserve more milk options, and that is why we hope Congress will make it easier for all WIC mothers to use their benefits to again purchase reduced-fat (2%) milk for themselves and their children. In 2014, the WIC rules were changed to prevent most WIC mothers with children age 2 and older from using their benefits to purchase any milk variety other than low-fat and nonfat. Like most other Americans, WIC participants prefer reduced-fat or whole milk, which means they must go outside of WIC to buy their desired milk varieties.
Moreover, a 2015 study found that many stores in Hispanic-majority and low-income neighborhoods were less likely to carry low-fat or nonfat milk, which combined with WIC’s milk restrictions, resulted in less milk consumption by WIC families. WIC families need milk’s nine essential nutrients, and providing them with more milk options will help improve the health of mothers and children who participate in the program.
We also hope that Congress will make it easier for families to utilize WIC program benefits to purchase yogurt in in single-serving containers that may better suit their family’s consumption patterns. Some states interpret current rules restrictively to limit yogurt redemptions to one 32-ounce container of yogurt, instead of allowing WIC families to choose single-serving containers that are more prevalent and offer flavors not available in larger container sizes. Providing a little more flexibility would make it much easier for WIC families to access the full nutritional benefits of yogurt.
Finally, we are also asking Congress to permit low-fat and nonfat milk to be sold in 16-ounce containers in high school vending machines to encourage kids to choose a healthier beverage option instead of a diet soda or sports drinks, which can be offered in 20-ounce containers. The current milk container size limit is 12 ounces.
Congress can improve the health and nutrition of millions of American families by making these four simple program changes. Let’s not miss this opportunity, which, after all, doesn’t come around very often.