Schools are having a difficult time meeting new federal requirements for leaner student lunches championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and in some cases are adding less healthy foods to meet calorie limits, investigators have found.

The problems are so widespread that the Government Accountability Office is recommending that the Agriculture Department ease or change some requirements to avoid the unexpected consequences of Mrs. Obama’s signature effort to address childhood obesity.

“Because of the meat and grain maximums, some districts made menu decisions that are inconsistent with the goal of improving children’s diets, as they added desserts and condiments that increased the amount of sugar, salt or fat in lunches in order to comply with the required calorie minimums,” the GAO reported in the first substantial review of how school districts are implementing school lunch requirements under child nutrition laws passed by Congress in 2010.

GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, spot checked several school districts and found schools, food distributors and students are all facing challenges.

“School districts faced several challenges implementing the new lunch requirements in school year 2012-2013, according to the eight districts GAO visited and food service and industry officials GAO interviewed from across the country,” the watchdog agency said.

One of the biggest complications for schools is staying within the new law’s meat, grain and calorie limits, which affect the types of food a school is able to serve and the portion sizes food suppliers are able to produce.

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