The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act marked significant progress earlier this month when it passed the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce on a 26-13 bipartisan vote. That allows the bill to move forward to be voted on by the House, with that schedule now to be decided by House leadership.
Pennsylvania Representative and the bill’s prime sponsor, G.T. Thompson, has led the legislative effort to allow schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program to serve all varieties of flavored and unflavored milk, including whole milk. Currently, schools may only offer fat-free or 1% unflavored or flavored milk to be eligible for federal money to support food service.
The main message of the bill’s advocates has been that having whole and 2% milk options available is crucial for children to choose milk with their breakfast and/or lunch at school. When kids choose milk and drink it, they access 13 essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and vitamin D, which are identified as three of the top three nutrients of concern in American diets. Providing a product they want to drink has also been shown numerous times to reduce food waste in cafeterias.
However, these higher fat options have been excluded since the 2010 passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act over concerns about children consuming excessive saturated fat and sugar. USDA also recently accepted comments and is now considering a proposal that would allow flavored fat-free and 1% milk for high school students or high schoolers and middle schoolers only, while students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and potentially eighth grade, would only be served unflavored fat-free or 1% milk.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act has drawn widespread support, with 106 cosponsors from both parties before the committee vote. Those cosponsors represented 39 states, and there is still time and motivation to expand those numbers. Thompson has said he hopes to have 200 cosponsors — nearly half of the entire House — by the time a vote comes to the floor.
In recognition of the House bill moving forward, companion legislation was introduced in the Senate last week by prime sponsor Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and prime cosponsor Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
The House committee vote was not without controversy, with the main opposition being a handful of Representatives’ concerns that the bill would allow the science of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be ignored in favor of legislating nutrition policy.
Still, the measure passed out of committee and will now face the rest of the House for the first time. Thompson previously introduced the bill in both the 116th and 117th Congresses, but it did not advance either time. The 118th Congress may prove to be different.