Earlier today, McDonald’s announced that it would be pulling this month’s Happy Meal giveaway—a fitness tracker—after reports that the devices have caused rashes on children’s arms. But rashes or not, McDonald’s ploy to associate Happy Meals with health was dangerous from the start.
According to USA Today, McDonald’s introduced the Olympic-inspired trackers to “push back at critics who've painted the business as pushing junk food to kids.” But adding a fitness tracker to an order of burgers and fries doesn’t change the fact that McDonald’s is still pushing burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries—all junk food—to kids.
Late last week, the American Heart Association released a statement in the journal Circulation on the state of children’s cardiovascular health in the United States. The report is sobering: According to the AHA, many American children already fail to meet even basic standards for good heart health.
The authors found that about a third of surveyed children have elevated cholesterol levels, while an estimated 10 to 27 percent of U.S. children are obese, depending on the age group.
It’s not a surprise, considering the authors also found that an overwhelming majority of the children—91 percent—eat unhealthy diets. In fact, the average U.S. child eats only about a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables per day, falling woefully short of the recommended five daily servings. At the same time, most children consume an excess of artery-clogging saturated fat, while 9 in 10 eat too much sodium. So the last thing kids need to associate with health is cheeseburgers, fried chicken nuggets, and salty fries.
To curb the childhood obesity epidemic, we have to look further than just physical fitness. While exercise is important and has its benefits, studies continue to show that food choices play a bigger role in maintaining a healthy weight. One study in preschoolers found that physical activity levels do not determine children’s body weight as much as other factors, including diet.
Considering that a cheeseburger Happy Meal has 570 calories, 20 grams of total fat, 8.5 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, and 915 milligrams of sodium, it’s not fitness trackers that McDonald’s needs to serve up with its Happy Meals, but angiograms.
Sausage Party, an R-rated animated comedy, opened last Friday in 3,103 theaters across the United States and made $33.6 million. Some of those moviegoers should have seen an ad warning of sausage’s link to colorectal cancer. But movie theaters with concessions stands selling hot dogs banned our ad.
The video—which uses humor geared toward the Sausage Party audience—pokes fun to make a point: Nobody should be exposed to cancer-causing sausage and hot dogs.
We attempted to air the ad in movie theaters in Pennsylvania in the Northeast, Mississippi in the South, South Dakota in the Midwest, and Alaska in the West, the states in each region of the country where colorectal cancer death rates for men are greatest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent World Health Organization report found that processed meats such as hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, and deli meats are “carcinogenic to humans.” Each 50-gram portion of processed meat—approximately the size of a typical hot dog—eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.
Our message to Sausage Party viewers: Processed meats are no party.
Science shows conclusively that a vegan diet helps people avoid obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. But a new proposed law in Italy argues that without animal products, kids can’t grow up to be healthy. Science says otherwise.
A vegan diet supplemented with vitamin B12 provides excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence. Children who consume nutritious vegan diets not only grow up to be strong and healthy, but they also lower the risk of developing obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Four facts that prove plant-based diets support healthy growth in children:
1. Experts confirm that vegan diets are safe for all stages of life:
The American Dietetic Association states that well-planned vegan diets that are supplemented with vitamin B12 “are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” The group cites evidence showing that people who follow vegetarian diets have lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. The Academy of Pediatrics agrees: “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”
2. Most children’s diets are severely lacking in healthful fruits and vegetables:
It’s not animal products that are lacking in most kids’ diets. It’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that have protective effects against the world’s top killers, including heart disease. In the United States, the average American child consumes only about a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit per day.
3. Many children already have risk factors for heart disease:
One recent study found that 40 percent of children, ages 6 to 11, already have high cholesterol levels. High blood pressure rates are also increasingly common in children. And for the 1 in 3 American (and 1 in 3 Italian) children who are overweight or obese, the risks only increase. About 70 percent of obese children have one or more risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease is the top killer in the United States—and Italy, where cardiovascular diseases account for 30 percent of all deaths.
But vegan diets are free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. Studies have long shown that vegan diets can help prevent, reverse, and manage heart disease in adults. A Cleveland Clinic study released last year found that vegan diets have similar effects in overweight children. Children in the vegan group lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved their weight, and lowered their sensitivity to two biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.
4. Type 2 diabetes rates are surging worldwide:
Between 2000 and 2009, type 2 diabetes prevalence skyrocketed by more than 30 percent in American children. Kids with type 2 diabetes face an increased risk of serious complications, like kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. If nothing changes, projections show that 1 in 3 American children will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. On a global level, the story is similar. Worldwide diabetes rates have jumped from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.
But studies show that people who consume plant-based diets have a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes. A recent major review found that diabetes patients who followed a plant-based diet improved their insulin sensitivity, reduced their diabetes medications, and lowered their intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol.
The Pentagon says soldiers need to slim down. So to fight the obesity epidemic, the Department of Defense will publish a new policy later this year to encourage troops to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A plant-based diet should be part of that plan.
Time and again, plant-based diets have proven best for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. The Military Times even acknowledges that people on a vegan diet “eat more fruits and vegetables than omnivores, and higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with lower blood cholesterol, lower incidence of stroke and a lower risk of mortality from heart disease.”
The Physicians Committee’s own clinical trials with the GEICO insurance company have also shown the benefits of offering a low-fat, plant-based diet in the workplace: improvements in body weight, cholesterol levels, and, in individuals with diabetes, blood sugar control.
But instead of promoting plant-based diets to help troops fight obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, some members of Congress are trying to ban Meatless Mondays. This could actually exacerbate obesity. A recent study found that people who ate large quantities of protein and a small amount of carbohydrates were almost twice as likely to gain more than 10 percent of their body weight.
Perhaps the U.S. military should instead seek guidance on incorporating a plant-based menu from the Israeli army. Last year NPR reported that “the Israel Defense Forces ‘is currently working on creating a complete meal plan for vegan soldiers who serve on closed bases’” and that “soldiers will get extra plant-based products for breakfast and lunch.”
My colleagues and I can also help. The Pentagon should enroll troops in the Physicians Committee’s Food for Life Employee Wellness Program, which is based on our GEICO study. But in the meantime, I encourage service members to start a healthier lifestyle today by downloading our Vegetarian Starter Kit or joining our 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.
The 2016 Olympics may not officially kick off until tonight, but there is already a group of winners from Team USA! Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, beach volleyball gold-medal favorite April Ross, and weightlifter Kendrick Farris are a few of the growing number of American athletes powering their performances with plant-based foods.
More and more athletes are finding that a plant-based diet can easily provide all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and yes—even protein—to fuel a medal-winning performance.
"I believe in the power of plant-based eating, and as an athlete, I always need to feel my best," says Venus Williams, who fuels her victories with green smoothies, brown rice, quinoa, tons of fresh vegetables, and even vegan pizza.
Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell made the switch to a vegan diet two years before she made the trip to Rio—much to the dismay of her coaches and teammates. But after an initial learning curve, Morgan reports that she began to feel “lighter and cleaner” and her sprinting times immediately improved.
Curious about how it all works? This week, the Physicians Committee is teaming up with ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, who was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness, to show how powerful plant-based nutrition is for athletes. Rich, fueled entirely by plants, is widely famed for being the first person to complete five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in less than a week.
In a new video, Rich joins the Physicians Committee’s Karen Smith, R.D.—the fastest Delaware woman to run the 2016 Boston Marathon—to talk about some of their favorite foods to fuel athletic performance.
Get the recipes for Rich’s Superfood Energy Balls, Veggie Burgers, One Bowls, and Epic5 Smoothies from Rich’s book The Plantpower Way.