Physicians Committee Hosts Congressional Briefings on School Lunch
Speakers Dr. Neal Barnard, Scott Richardson, Dr. Ronette Briefel, Dr. Wayne Giles, and Dr. Goutham Rao at the Capitol Building
In advance of congressional deliberations for revising school lunch standards, the Physicians Committee is weighing in on improvements to the nutritional quality of school meals. Leading up to the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act—which provides funding for the National School Lunch Program and other child nutrition programs—the Physicians Committee is hosting a series of Capitol Hill briefings to raise awareness about the need for better access to plant-based options in school cafeterias.
“Most American children have the beginnings of atherosclerosis before they get their high school diplomas,” Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., said at the first event this April. “Children raised on meaty, cheesy diets have tremendous long-term health risks.” The panelists—academic experts and public health professionals—echoed his concerns about childhood obesity in particular and its relation to the school lunch program.
“From 1960 to today there has been a fourfold increase in childhood obesity,” reported panelist Wayne Giles, M.D., M.S., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Population Health. “All race groups, all ethnic groups, all income levels … this is a problem in all 50 states.”
Other speakers included Ronette Briefel, Dr.P.H., R.D., a senior fellow at Mathematica; Scott Richardson, M.B.A., director of research and strategic initiatives for Project Bread; and Goutham Rao, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Obesity Committee.
Dr. Briefel spoke about the evolution of the school lunch program’s nutritional content, while Richardson discussed the program’s effects on hunger. Richardson also discussed a study Project Bread conducted with the Harvard School of Public Health, which found that changes to school lunch legislation have increased fruit and vegetable consumption and have not increased the amount of food wasted.
Dr. Rao’s presentation put school lunch standards in the context of a wider effort to improve public health and lower chronic disease rates. Despite the grim statistics, he was hopeful. “I think the movement toward healthier food environments is unstoppable. Let’s bear in mind that we can’t turn back at this point,” he said.
The second event of the series, planned for July 1, will bring school lunch administrators and educators to Capitol Hill to highlight successful efforts to offer more healthful, plant-based fare in the lunch line. Speakers will include Chef Ann Cooper, nutrition services director of Boulder Valley School District; Darlene Moppert, M.S., R.D., program manager of nutrition education and training at Broward County Public Schools; and Bob Groff, principal of New York Public School 244.
Watch a recap of the April event as well as the speakers’ presentations at PCRM.org/Media.