- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2014

The leader of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative is taking his own advice.

The White House announced Monday that Sam Kass, who doubles as the first family’s personal chef, will step down at the end of the month and move to New York City. His departure creates a void in Mrs. Obama’s signature campaign at a time when one of its central tenets, healthier food in K-12 cafeterias, faces an uncertain future as congressional Republicans aim to relax the controversial school lunch standards amid never-ending complaints from administrators, parents and students.

As executive director of the “Let’s Move!” campaign, Mr. Kass — who also holds the title of White House senior policy adviser on nutrition — played a central in developing the standards, which limit sugar, sodium and other unhealthy eats while requiring more whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables.

But since they were implemented by the Agriculture Department in 2012, the new standards, part of a broader effort to fight childhood obesity, have come under fire from all sides.

GOP lawmakers — echoing the concerns of students, some of whom recently launched a #ThanksMichelleObama Twitter campaign mocking the meager, often unappetizing meals — believe they place unrealistic limits on school districts. A recent survey by the School Nutrition Association, for example, found that just 18 percent of school meal operators expect to break even on their programs this year.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Kass‘ and Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative also has faced criticism from health professionals who believe the lunch standards haven’t gone far enough.

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“Childhood obesity is such a big problem. Improvements are still needed,” said Cameron Wells, a dietitian with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Our concerns are still there.”

Ms. Wells applauded the progress Mr. Kass and Mrs. Obama have made on the issue, but stressed that further restrictions — such as the elimination of processed meats, for example — should be implemented.

While the future of school lunch standards is in doubt, the first family praised Mr. Kass on Monday, both for his work on the first lady’s healthy eating initiative and for his creativity as White House chef.

President Obama thanked him for, among other things, helping brew a special White House honey brown ale. Mrs. Obama said he played a central role in her signature program.

Sam has been an integral part of Let’s Move! from its very beginning — from discussions about children’s health around my kitchen table in Chicago, to setting the strategic vision of a national campaign in the White House, to spearheading efforts with the private sector across the country,” she said in a statement. “Sam leaves an extraordinary legacy of progress, including healthier food options in grocery store aisles, more nutritious school lunches, and new efforts that have improved how healthy food is marketed to our kids.”

But on Capitol Hill, Republicans continue their efforts to roll back the school lunch standards and give districts more flexibility. Some Republicans have pushed to include changes to the program in a looming spending bill, though it’s not clear whether school lunches will be addressed in the mammoth $1.1 trillion legislation.

Either way, Republicans surely will tackle the issue in the next Congress, when they also will control the Senate.

Brian Rell, spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Alabama Republican who in the new Congress will remain chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the school lunch program, said Monday that the issue will remain a top priority.

“Chairman Aderholt’s efforts to afford flexibility to locals school in implementing USDA school lunch rules will continue well beyond Chef Kass’ departure,” Mr. Rell said.

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