384: New School Lunch Guidelines, ASTHO Testifies Before Congress

Cindy Long, Administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, says a new set of proposed school lunch guidelines are an important step to putting kids on a path to healthy lifestyles; Jeffrey Ekoma, ASTHO’s Senior Director of Government Affairs,...

Cindy Long, Administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, says a new set of proposed school lunch guidelines are an important step to putting kids on a path to healthy lifestyles; Jeffrey Ekoma, ASTHO’s Senior Director of Government Affairs, outlined Dr. Anne Zink’s testimony to Congress yesterday in this week’s “View from Washington D.C.” report; today is World TB Day, which is an opportunity to focus on the work to end the tuberculosis epidemic that claimed 1.6 million lives worldwide in 2021; and it’s time to register for ASTHO’s TechXpo and Futures Forum which is planned for May 23rd through the 25th in Chicago.

USDA Webpage: Proposed Updates to the School Nutrition Standards

World Health Organization Webpage: World Tuberculosis Day 2023

ASTHO Webpage: Public Health TechXpo and Futures Forum


ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, March 24th, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson. Now today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



The flexibility coming out of the pandemic was, in part motivated because of the recognition that there were some real supply chain challenges happening at schools.



Cindy Long is Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She says a set of school lunch guidelines implemented during the pandemic soon will be replaced with a new set of proposed standards.



The proposed longer-term standards really made changes in a few key areas. And specifically, they would for the first time, address added sugars in the school meals programs, which is of course, something that the dietary guidelines stresses is limit added sugars. It provides a gradual pathway over time for reducing sodium in school meals, which is something that we need to do across the marketplace in America. And then it also, you know, continues to emphasize consumption of whole grains and of lower fat dairy products.



Long says public health leaders can help by offering their support for training of school nutrition staff, and improved communication in school communities.



I think it's really important to remember that, you know, school meals are a powerful tool for influencing kids health. You know, over 30 million kids eat on a given day, and for about half of kids, it's their main source of nutrition. And so I think it's important to view those the programs that way and to recognize that even modest changes can have really important impacts on putting kids on a path to a healthy lifestyle. So that would be the first point is just really that connection between school meals as a tool for promoting healthy lifestyles.



The USDA is taking public comments on the proposed guidelines until April 10th. You can read more using the link in the show notes. ASTHO was on Capitol Hill again this week.


Jeffrey Ekoma is ASTHO's Senior Director of Government Affairs. He's here to tell us the reason for the visit to Congress in this week's "View from Washington D.C." report.


It's hearing season on Capitol Hill and there is at least one hearing that ASTHO members will definitely want to know about. Can you give us those details?



Absolutely. Our president Dr. Anne Zink, testified before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies. We're so grateful to the committee for considering doctors and concerns. Opportunity only comes around every couple of years considering the lottery process that sort of goes into picking witnesses. But Dr. Zink’s testimony focused on a couple of important things that all national members and public health really love and care about.


One is the need for sustainable and flexible funding to support not only key ASTHO FY 24 funding priorities, but also things that everybody in public health cares about. So one is a billion dollars for public health infrastructure, 153 million for social determinants of health, and 340 million for data modernization amongst other priorities. In addition, her written testimony to the committee also discusses the importance of adequately funding the CDC to Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement to Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant, and also the Hospital Preparedness Program. In addition to the important work happening at Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).



Last week, Carolyn Mullen told us that the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) was a national priority, but that's only one item on the list. Tell us about some of ASTHO's other legislative priorities in this session.



Absolutely. I mean, we've been busy responding to some really important requests for information (RFIs) from the Hill, one that we recently submitted was to the Senate Health Committee, who was interested in policy development and solutions to address our current health care and public health care workforce shortages. So, our comments to the committee focused on addressing state and territorial public health challenges, including the need to one invest in public health workforce loan repayment, and scholarship programs to protecting public health officials from threats and harassment. Three, increasing the diversity of our public health workforce. And last but not least in numerating, the public health workforce to better plan and address shortages. I also want to document with the need to discuss the ways in which ASTHO is supporting our public health workforce through programs such as the Public Health, Equity, Resilience, and Opportunity Program (PH-HERO) initiative, as well as Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health (DELPH) cohort. Last but not least, we're also working to finalize comments on a RFI from the Senate Health Committee on PAHPA which sort of complements our work in our comments to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that we submitted last week.



That's a long list. It sounds like you're gonna stay busy. Is there anything we need to pay attention to over the next week or so here in Washington?



Absolutely there's a couple of things. So, one is HHS Secretary Becerra will be on the Hill next week to testify before two committees, one, the Senate Finance Committee, and to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he'll be discussing the President's FY 24 budget request for HHS. Also, our team is still analyzing the President's budget. And we intend on releasing another legislative alert on our proposal coming shortly. Our team is also conducting a lot of Hill visits with both the House and the Senate to really stress the importance of our appropriation ask as well as the need for sustainable flexible public health funding going forward.



Jeffrey Ekoma, thank you for joining us today on this “View from Washington D.C.” report. We look forward to hearing from the Government Relations team again next week.



Thank you.



Also, today is World TB day, an opportunity to focus on the work to end the tuberculosis epidemic that claimed 1.6 million lives worldwide in 2021. The World Health Organization has a webpage with videos and other resources about world TB day and the campaign against tuberculosis. We've got the link in the show notes.


Finally, this morning, it's time to register for ASTHO's TechXpo and Futures Forum. The in-person event is planned for May 23rd through the 25th in Chicago, and online gathering with exclusive content is set for June 15th. You can get more information using the link in the show notes.


That will do it for today's newscast. We're back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information. I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Cindy Long

Administrator, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Jeffrey Ekoma

Senior Director, Government Affairs, ASTHO