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Food donated through the federal government's agricultural-surplus program is worsening the nutritional quality of school lunches, an advocacy group has charged.

According to the Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, the U.S. Agriculture Department's surplus program, which provides 20 percent of all products used in school lunches, donates food that is frequently high in fat, sugar, or sodium.

The Washington-based group notes in a recent report that the usda charges schools for low-fat cheese, but gives them high-fat cheese for free. Ground beef provided by the government, it adds, typically has a higher fat content than beef available in supermarkets.

The usda has issued an 11-page response to the report that takes issue with many of the group's recommendations, including one that asks the agency to set limits on the amount of fat, sodium, and sugar permitted in school lunches.

"[S]cientific evidence does not support setting absolute intake levels" of these substances, the department maintains.

Most of the U.S. Public Health Service's 13 goals for reducing infant-mortality rates and improving prenatal health care will not be met by their 1990 target date.

According to projections by the Centers for Disease Control, only three of the objectives set by the agency in 1979 will be met.

They are that no more than .65 percent of all babies will die during their first 28 days of life; that a majority of babies will leave the hospital in cars equipped with safety seats; and that all newborns will be screened for metabolic disorders.

The cdc also expects that the goal of reducing the infant-mortality rate to below 9 deaths for every 1,000 births will not be met. It predicted that in 1990 the overall rate will be 9.1 deaths per 1,000 births, and the rate for blacks 15.9 deaths per 1,000 births.

A national survey of 40,000 children during the 1986-87 school year provides further evidence of progress in the battle against tooth decay.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that students that year had 36 percent fewer cavities than did students at the beginning of the decade.

Just over 36 percent of all students reported no cavities in 1980, and 28.8 percent in the early 1970's, the department says.

Children reporting tooth decay in 1986-87 had an average of three cavities, down from five in 1980.

Health officials say they attribute the improvements in dental health to the widespread use of fluoride in water supplies and toothpastes.--ef

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