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The US Department of Agriculture has loosened its nutritional requirements for school lunches, taking a bite out of Michelle Obama’s signature “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity.

In his first major action as agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue unrolled the new guidelines at an elementary school in Virginia, announcing schools would no longer need to meet 2017-2018 targets for sodium content or serve 100 per cent whole grain products.

Mr Perdue said the announcement was the result of “years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals”.

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the programme,” he said.

Nearly all schools are already compliant with the regulation. However the School Nutrition Association welcomed the flexibility to address “overly prescriptive regulations” that have resulted in higher costs, waste and reduced participation.

In January, Mrs Obama had said she hoped the Trump administration would leave the school lunch programme untouched.

“We have to keep doing things that make sense for our future,” she told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. “We know our kids need to eat well. They need to eat healthy and we can’t, sort of, start changing that when they go to school.”

Since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed in 2010, the two-year growth rate in child obesity has slowed to just 1 per cent, according to the CDC. From 2009 to 2011 it had jumped 10 per cent.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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