Good Medicine Magazine

The Physicians Committee

Who's Making Money from Overweight Kids?

Nachos. Chicken wings. Pepperoni pizza. It’s the kind of fare you’d expect on the happy hour menu at some bar and grill. But these same foods are showing up as everyday items in school lunches.

As Congress prepares to update the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2010—which is set to expire on Sept. 30—lawmakers have to decide what kinds of foods children should find in the school lunch line.

Millions Spent on Meat

The Child Nutrition Act—administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—funds federal school meal and child nutrition programs. More than 31 million children receive meals each day through the National School Lunch Program, and more than 12 million participate in the National School Breakfast Program. The 2010 reauthorization of the Act increased fruit and vegetable requirements, set limits on saturated fat, allowed students to use a note from their guardian to request non-dairy milk, and allowed commercial tofu and soy products to meet all or part of the meats/meat alternates component. But it also allowed for unhealthful meat and dairy products to continue to infiltrate school lunches through USDA commodities.

In 2013, the USDA paid more than $500 million to 62 meat and dairy producers for beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, eggs, and lamb that ended up in school meals. Six of those 62 companies received a combined $331 million:

Targeting the School Nutrition Association

Some of these same suppliers—including Tyson Foods and Jennie-O Turkey Store—are also targeting the School Nutrition Association—an organization with 55,000 school food service members.

The Physicians Committee recently reviewed advertisements in each 2014 issue of SNA’s School Nutrition magazine. While there were some ads for pasta, beans, blueberries, sweet potatoes—and even hummus and soy milk—they were outnumbered by ads for pepperoni pizza, corn dogs, and other junk foods.

Of 106 ads for unhealthful meat and dairy products, 23 were full-page ads for Domino’s or Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza. Pizza is the number-two source of calories for children and adolescents ages 2-18, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is also the second-leading source of saturated fat and the third-leading source of sodium.

A Domino’s ad in one issue of the magazine even urges “Help us take a slice out of cancer,” despite the fact that a daily serving of pepperoni or other processed meat is linked to colorectal cancer risk. Similarly, women who consume the most red meat during childhood are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.

Pizza isn’t the only culprit. There are ads for sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches, beef ravioli, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets…and the list goes on: