Big Salt Takes Aim at School Lunch Rules

Health experts and industry groups are clashing over national sodium standards ahead of a fall congressional debate over first lady Michelle Obama’s signature school lunch regulations.

Groups including the Salt Institute contend that the federal government is years behind in its research on sodium consumption and that some studies have shown getting too little could be more dangerous than getting too much.

“There is absolutely no scientific basis for any population-wide sodium reduction strategy,” said the group’s president, Lori Roman. “Studies show, left to ourselves, we will naturally seek out the safe range. What I worry about is the captive people — the kids in schools, who are getting more than one meal a day or maybe one of their only meals of the day, and elderly people in nursing homes, who are put on low-sodium diets for no reason.”

Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is up for reauthorization this month, schools are required to reduce sodium levels in the coming years.

The rules would reduce per-lunch maximum sodium levels from 1,230 milligrams in elementary school, 1,360 mg in middle school and 1,420 in high school to 935, 1,035 and 1,080, respectively, by 2017. They would be lowered again to 640, 710 and 740 by 2022.

With these standards, Roman said, kids eating both their breakfast and lunch at school are less likely to perform as well as they should.