WASHINGTON—Child nutrition legislation introduced yesterday in the House of Representatives is a first historic step; however, much more needs to follow in order to deal with the childhood obesity epidemic by enabling schools to have equal access to and the ability to serve more vegetables, fruits, and low-fat, cholesterol-free meals.
Senior clinicians called for amendments that would bring forward the introduction of healthier plant-based meal options in accordance with recommendations made by the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association.
The bill, in its current form, does little to encourage the substitution of high fat content foods (such as meat and cheese) with low-fat fruit and vegetables. Such substitutions are crucial in fighting childhood obesity and have been endorsed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and 66 members of the House of Representatives.
"Recognizing childhood nutrition as a society-wide issue is a historic moment for Congress. This bill does much to increase children's access to school meals,” said Elizabeth Kucinich, PCRM's director of public affairs. “It is also an opportunity to do even more—to ensure the food we feed our children will keep them fit and healthy.
"Congress must seize this opportunity to ensure future generations eat more healthy meals rich in fruit and vegetables, and less high-fat, high-cholesterol processed meat and dairy products. More than 70 percent of schools serve meals too high in saturated fat to comply with federal requirements. Providing healthful school lunch options will dramatically reduce the spiraling health care costs of obesity and diabetes."
Clinicians at PCRM have suggested that the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act could easily be improved by including provisions from the Healthy School Meals Act, H.R. 4870, legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and co-sponsored by 65 additional Members of Congress.
The Healthy School Meals Act includes a $4 million pilot program to add plant-based lunch options to school cafeterias and allow students to select a nutritious nondairy milk alternative if they are lactose intolerant or choose not to drink milk for another reason. Including these provisions in the legislation now before the House would ensure schools served more fruit and vegetables.
If a student is able to choose a plant-based meal option even once a week, he or she could reap important benefits. A veggie burger, for example, is similar in protein content to a hamburger. But while the hamburger has 15 grams of fat, the veggie burger has only 5, and it contains no saturated fat, zero cholesterol, fewer calories, and more fiber. Studies show these meals are well accepted by students, but are rarely available to most children.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.