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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE January 26, 2012

School Lunch Guidelines Fall Short: Still Too Much Meat, Dairy, and Junk in School Lunches

Doctors urge USDA to require meatless entrées and nondairy beverages in all schools

WASHINGTON—New school lunch guidelines issued by the USDA are too little too late to stem the tide of childhood obesity, according to doctors and dietitians with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). While they take a positive step by emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they don’t do nearly enough to encourage meatless entrées and alternatives to obesity-causing dairy products in school lunchrooms.

“Meat, cheese, and junk are still front and center in school lunches,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “The new USDA guidelines still do not require schools to offer meatless entrées or nondairy beverage options to all students. Meat, milk, and cheese are packed with calories and saturated fat, and they play a huge role in the obesity epidemic.”

The new guidelines offer low-fat and nonfat milk and other dairy products, but these products still contain large amounts of sugar and significant amounts of cholesterol. A cup of 1 percent, unflavored low-fat milk, for instance, has about twice the cholesterol in a Snickers bar, and about half the sugar. A cup of fat-free chocolate milk has almost as much sugar as a Snickers bar.

Low-fat milk does nothing to help the estimated one in five children in the United States who suffers from some degree of lactose intolerance.

The guidelines include language on meat alternatives, but they do not require schools to offer them. Plant-based entrées are better choices, and are typically high in fiber and low in fat. A veggie burger, for example, provides the same amount of protein as a typical cheeseburger—15 grams. But while a cheeseburger has 10 grams of fat, a veggie burger has only 5, and very little saturated fat, no cholesterol, and fewer calories.

It is estimated that students get half to one-third of their calories at school. Over the past three decades, the prevalence of obesity in children has almost tripled. The journal Health Affairs published a study finding that the cost of hospitalizing obese children nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005. Diet-related diseases are also increasingly common: One in three American children will now eventually develop diabetes, according to public health experts.

For more information or to speak with Susan Levin, please contact Vaishali Honawar at 202-527-7339 or

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.

Media Contact:
Vaishali Honawar

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.

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