According to the Associated Press, potato growers are fighting back against efforts to ban or limit potatoes in federal child nutrition programs, arguing the tuber is loaded with potassium and vitamin C and shouldn’t be considered junk food. Healthy food advocates said they’re not anti-potato, but they think children need a greater variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to fight a tripling of child obesity rates in the past 30 years.
With that in mind, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stop participants of the federal Women, Infants, and Children program, known as WIC, from buying potatoes with federal dollars. The institute also called for the USDA-backed school lunch program to limit use of potatoes.
Under an interim rule, the USDA agreed to bar WIC participants from buying potatoes with their federal dollars. Potatoes are the only vegetable not allowed. Next year, the agency will roll out a final rule on the WIC program, which last year served 9.3 million children and pregnant and breast-feeding women considered at risk for malnutrition.
The WIC program is a supplemental food program, and the determination was made that consumption of white potatoes was already adequate, said Christine Stencel, spokeswoman for the Institute of Medicine. “The recommendation was made to encourage consumption of other fruits and vegetables,” she said.
The USDA is expected to release changes to the federal school lunch program by the end of the year. The program subsidizes lunch and breakfast for nearly 32 million needy kids in most public schools and many private ones, and those schools must follow guidelines on what they serve. Whatever the USDA decides, potatoes won’t disappear from school lunches, although they might become less common.