WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama turned uncharacteristically political Tuesday, pushing back against a measure pending in the Republican-controlled House that would let some schools opt out of federal dietary standards for school lunches.
The standards, approved by Congress and the president in 2010, set limits on sodium, fat, and calories, and require that unhealthy menu items be replaced with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Some big food companies and Republican lawmakers have criticized the rules, calling them inflexible, ineffective, and expensive. Representative Robert B. Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, has attached language to a spending bill that would waive the requirements for financially ailing school districts.
In response, Obama met with a half-dozen school officials Tuesday who attested to the success of the new standards in their school systems. The standards have been introduced gradually over the past two years.
“The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health,” Obama said at the meeting, adding that “rolling things back is not the answer.”
Sam Kass, the director of Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity, acknowledged “legitimate challenges” for some districts in carrying out the standards.
But he cited academic studies showing that, overall, children were eating healthier foods because of the standards.
The School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria administrators, issued a statement Tuesday calling the rules “overly prescriptive” and citing Agriculture Department data that showed a drop in school-lunch participation since the standards were adopted.