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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE September 4, 2001

School Lunches Fail to Make the Grade, Say Doctors

Too Much Fat, Meat, Chicken, Cheese; Virtually No Non-Dairy Alternatives

WASHINGTON—The National School Lunch Program gets poor marks in nutrition according to a new report released today by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). In a survey conducted in August, PCRM dietitians learned that only 1 of 12 elementary school districts interviewed is substituting lower-fat, cholesterol-free plant protein for meat on school menus. And, only one of the school districts routinely offers calcium-rich milk alternatives, a surprising finding given the growing concern with milk as a potential factor in a variety of health problems. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that serves 27 million lunches per day.

"Our research shows that the National School Lunch Program is failing to routinely serve healthy, low-fat, fiber- and nutrient-rich meals to children," says PCRM dietitian Jen Keller. "While some schools are lowering fat and making healthier vegetarian meals available, not enough have done their homework when it comes to nutrition. Given the sky-high incidences of obesity and related conditions in this country, school menus obviously need some remedial help."

A summary of findings:

  • Meeting USDA Nutrition Guidelines: Three out of 12 school districts are not meeting USDA nutrition guidelines, aren't sure if they are, or don't care.
  • Utilizing Commodity or Surplus Foods Donated by the USDA: Three of the most frequently ordered commodity foods are high-fat and cholesterol-laden ground beef, chicken, and cheese.
  • Availability of Calcium-Rich, Dairy-Free Foods: Only one district routinely offers calcium-rich vegetables.
  • Efforts to Lower Fat: Four of the 12 districts say it's difficult to meet government standards for reducing fat on school menus.
  • Availability of Vegetarian Entrées: Ten of the 12 districts offer a vegetarian substitute meal if requested specially, but only 2 routinely offer vegetarian fare as part of the menu.

PCRM staff interviewed school food service coordinators in 12 school districts, including some of the smallest and largest in each of the seven regions of the country. Districts participating included New York City; Gloucester County, Virginia; Chicago; Anamoose, North Dakota; Golden, Colorado; Kuna, Idaho; Leverett, Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; Hancock, Mississippi; Dallas; San Simon, Arizona; and San Diego.

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:
Jeanne S. McVey

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