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Banning Processed Meats in Schools
Hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats are strongly linked to colorectal cancer. The scientific evidence is so convincing that the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund urge consumers to avoid processed meats completely. Yet hot dogs are still widely consumed—and made available to schools as a commodity food.
PCRM subsidiary The Cancer Project recently launched a major campaign to ban processed meats in schools. In July, The Cancer Project debuted “Protect Our Kids,” a provocative 30-second television ad featuring three children at an elementary school who describe their lives from the perspective of adults with cancer. The ad intersperses their stories with shots of hot dogs, deli meats, and other unhealthy foods so often found on school lunch lines.
“Protect Our Kids” made its debut on CNN in memory of Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary who died of colon cancer in July. The ad also ran in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—home to six school districts serving disproportionately large amounts of processed meats. The Cancer Project chose these cities after conducting an analysis this spring of the prevalence of processed meats in school meals around the country. Cancer Project nutritionists analyzed lunch and breakfast menus at 29 large school districts in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
The Cancer Project’s survey of processed meat found in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs showed that many school menus are packed with processed meats. In fact, 16 of the 29 districts received a failing grade.
For example, 60 percent of all elementary school breakfasts, 80 percent of all middle school breakfasts, and 80 percent of all high school breakfasts in the Los Angeles Unified School District contain processed meats. In Chicago, 30 percent of the regular lunches served to high school students include processed meats, and 58 percent of Chicago’s cold lunches contained processed meats. Only two school districts—Denver and San Francisco—received a satisfactory grade.
In addition to the ad and the survey, The Cancer Project is leading a grassroots effort to reform federal food policy. The Child Nutrition Act, which determines what foods are served in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, is up for reauthorization next year. Cancer Project and PCRM representatives have attended United States Department of Agriculture listening sessions around the country to ask for improvements to these food programs, including more vegetarian foods, equal reimbursement for nondairy beverages as for cow’s milk, and a removal of processed meats from the list of commodities available to schools.
The Cancer Project’s campaign is based on a comprehensive report released late last year by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. After reviewing all existing data on nutrition and cancer risk, researchers concluded that processed meat increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent for every 50 grams consumed daily. (A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.) The landmark report emphasizes that no amount of processed meat is considered safe to eat.
Each year, 160,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. About half of all cases are already incurable when found. Approximately 50,000 Americans are expected to die of the disease this year.
For more information about the campaign to get processed meats off school lunch menus, visit CancerProject.org.