Doctors, Parents, Teacher Sue California Schools for Serving Students Carcinogenic Processed Meats

The Physicians Committee
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NEWS RELEASE April 12, 2017
Doctors, Parents, Teacher Sue California Schools for Serving Students Carcinogenic Processed Meats
School Systems Urged to Replace Processed Meats with Plant-Based Options

WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors—filed a lawsuit on April 12 to stop schools in California's Los Angeles Unified School District and Poway Unified School District from serving students processed meats—including hot dogs, pepperoni, and luncheon meat—which are linked to colorectal cancer.

The lawsuit alleges that serving foods that have been linked to cancer in school lunches violates California’s Education Code, which mandates that school lunches must be of the "highest quality" and "greatest nutritional value possible." Processed meats are available daily on many California public school menus.

Tracy Childs and Steven Sarnoff, who have two children who were Poway Unified School District students, and Jennifer Mack, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Poway Unified School District.

The World Health Organization recently released a report announcing that processed meats are "carcinogenic to humans." The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found an 18 percent increased cancer risk per 50 grams of processed meat—the equivalent of one hot dog or two strips of bacon—consumed daily.

"As parents, we want what’s best for our kids. Providing healthy school meals is a no brainer. Not only do healthful foods help students learn and focus in the classroom today, but they can protect our children’s future health," says Childs.

A recent study published by the National Cancer Institute found that young people today have double and quadruple the risks of colon and rectal cancers, respectively, compared to those born in the 1950s, due to low-fiber diets, high consumption of processed meats, and lack of physical activity.

"Colorectal cancer is now skyrocketing among young people," says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., Physicians Committee director of nutrition education. "California should ban processed meats now to take steps to bring down rates in Generation Z and beyond."

Those who consume the most processed meat also have an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, America’s leading cause of death, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study of more than a half-million people. A recent JAMA study found that processed meat consumption was tied to 57,766 deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in 2012.

The Physicians Committee sent both school districts a toolkit with information on removing processed meats from their menus, along with a booklet featuring affordable, student-tested plant-based recipes that lower the risk for colorectal cancer and heart disease. The Physicians Committee has also offered to send experts to assist with menu planning for the upcoming school year.

For a copy of the legal complaint or an interview with an expert, please contact Laura Anderson at 202-527-7396 or landerson@pcrm.org.

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 and medical training.