Tag Archives: Kids

Fed Up: Let’s Really Move Big Food Out of School Lunches

Sugar Isn’t the Only Villain in our Surging Obesity Epidemic

Katie Couric’s new documentary Fed Up is an eye-opening experience for most Americans. As the film shows, it’s nearly impossible to exercise your way out of eating pepperoni pizza, greasy fries, and a glass of low-fat chocolate milk—typical fare in K-12 school lunch rooms and family restaurant chains throughout the country. Exercise isn’t enough. We need to change what we’re eating.

healthy-school-lunches
But that’s where Fed Up misfires. It takes aim at sugar as if it is the sole devil in the lunchroom. But scapegoating sugar removes the much-deserved blame from the avalanche of meat and dairy piling up on the center of our plates – and school lunch trays. No amount of sugar reduction is going to help if people are still going for the meat and dairy.

A gram of sugar has only 4 calories. A gram of fat—from cheese, chicken, beef, or anywhere else has 9.

Compared with a century ago, Americans now eat 75 pounds more meat and 30 pounds more cheese per person, per year. In the last 30 years, consumption of cheese has tripled, fueling our childhood obesity epidemic.

Meat and cheese are the fatty staples of the standard American diet. The same diet has a hold on the National School Lunch Program: The sugar industry spent $9 million dollars lobbying in 2013, compared to the combined $17.5 million from the meat, dairy, and poultry industries.

Local beef burgers, pulled barbecue chicken, and turkey sausage need to come with parental permission slips. Countless research studies, including a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, show consumption of meat doubles diabetes risk. One in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their life. One in 5 now graduates high school with a diploma and high cholesterol, an early marker for heart disease, which remains the number one killer worldwide.

While we work relentlessly to teach our students about strong work ethics, academic integrity, and kindness, I can’t say we offer the same when it comes to federal subsidies and nutrition education programs.

The good news is leading medical organizations, including Kaiser Permanente, and political figures, such as former president Bill Clinton, are revolutionizing the way we think about diet and health. Science continues to show that when we make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes the center of our plates and remove the meat and dairy, our waistlines dwindle, our health rapidly improves, and our need for medication plummets.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of nutrition experts, updated its 2009 position paper to say that well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. AND also finds people who follow vegetarian diets have a lower body mass index, lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of overall cancer.

Let’s really move plant-based foods to the center of our plates and see what happens.

Let’s Really Move School Lunch Ads
Op-Ed: Are Sugar and Sloth the Causes of Obesity?
Dr. Barnard’s Studies on Dietary Trends in America

Boy Scouts: Offer Vegan Badge, Not Ban

The Boy Scouts of America banned overweight scouts from this month’s 2013 Jamboree. Their intention was to encourage the scouts to lose weight and shape up before the Jamboree—where the boys enjoy outdoor activities and learn new skills. But banning overweight kids is a mistake. They are exactly the kids who need guidance and support.

I was an Eagle Scout myself, and I remember how supportive scouting can be. But too often the organization gets the wrong end of the stick—or in this case, the fork. Instead of being banished, overweight scouts should be encouraged to come to camp and get lessons on healthful nutrition and cooking. They should be taught that the healthiest foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. They should learn that overweight comes, not from a lack of exercise, but from meaty, cheesy, sugar-laden diets. Given the chance to prepare and taste healthful foods, it could change their lives.

The potential benefits go beyond slimming down. New research from Thomas Jefferson University shows that the percentage of boys in the United States ages 8 to 17 with high blood pressure has increased from 15.8 to 19.2 percent. Girls also saw an increase. And according to a study published this month in JAMA, teens’ risk of developing hardened plaque in their arteries increases 2 to 4 percent each year they are obese. Healthier foods could prevent and reverse these problems.

It’s unfair for scout leaders to serve bacon and eggs in the mess hall and hot dogs around the campfire, and then blame scouts for being overweight. Instead they should send a clear message that a nutritious diet is part of an overall healthful lifestyle.

So let’s not ban kids who are having trouble. Instead, why not award a special merit badge to every scout who learns and practices the basics of vegan nutrition? These kids will save their own lives, and many more as well.

Congress Gets Healthy with 9-Year-Old Vegan Chef Noah Koch

The Physicians Committee recently hosted its second standing-room-only “Healthy on the Hill” luncheon on Capitol Hill for more than 120 staffers, interns, and journalists—and even a couple members of Congress—interested in learning more about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The presentation featured a vegan lunch and an interview with 9-year-old vegan chef Noah Koch, who recently won a White House recipe contest. Here is Noah Gittell, our director of government affairs, recapping the event:

Noah Koch with PCRM director of government affairs Noah Gittell

Noah Koch with PCRM director of government affairs Noah Gittell

Noah Koch isn’t your average 9 year old. Sitting at the front of a political briefing room packed with people three times his age, he looked perfectly at ease. “I fist bumped, shook hands, and high-fived the president!” Koch exclaimed. Most likely, this is more than any of us have done. But actually, it’s the least of his accomplishments. Just this year, Koch won the White House’s nutritious food contest sponsored by the “Let’s Move” campaign. Not only was his recipe absolutely delicious, it was also healthy and completely vegan. Koch’s Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta recipe is truly a winning recipe that combines pasta, pesto sauce, vegetables, and avocado to make a delectable dish for the most discriminating diners.

But as soon as the image of his Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta was illuminated on the projector screen, he quickly clarified to all, “The picture is incorrect.” He pointed out that not only were the vegetables sliced improperly, but “then there’s Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, which I do not like.” Noah is a perfectionist, and he won the contest for making a perfectly tasty, healthy, and nutritious meal without adding fatty cheese.

But there was more to the event than young Noah. We debuted our new Healthy on the Hill: A Guide to Veg-Friendly Fare on Capitol Hill (PDF) brochure that shows Hill staffers all of the great restaurants that serve inexpensive, plant-based foods just steps from Capitol Hill. We raffled off some of Dr. Barnard’s books and a copy of the popular Forks Over Knives DVD. Finally, we showed attendees how easy it is to make delicious, nutritious food at home, even with their busy schedules. Ten easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options were demonstrated in 10 short minutes. Our practical demonstration worked alongside Noah’s charm and dedication to show the audience how these simple nutritional changes can bring about life-altering transformations in health, both personally and nationwide.

I look forward to seeing Noah lead a generation of young people who can change destructive food policies. So Mr. Koch, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep running your 5Ks, eating a fantastic diet, and enjoying your childhood. Although it may not seem like it now, you are setting a wonderful example for your friends, parents, teachers, and even members of Congress! With your efforts, it won’t be long before schools across the country begin offering vegetarian and vegan choices for children looking for healthier alternatives. So from one Noah to another, I’m sending a fist bump, handshake, and high-five your way.

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