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We Must Address the Nutritional State of our Union

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. It is my hope that the President will lay out a bolder vision for improving America’s health and combating childhood obesity.

A study released this week shows that pizza is the largest source of saturated fat, salt, and calories in children’s diets. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since pizza one of the top sources of saturated fat for America overall—second only to cheese. What is shocking is that pizza is still commonly served in school lunches.

One-third of children are overweight, one-fifth have high cholesterol, and one in three children born since 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life. Obesity raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer and contributes to lower academic achievement and increased school absences that will make it more difficult for youth to succeed in school and ultimately in their careers.

While the Obama Administration has expressed interest in improving health through a heavy focus on the Let’s Move program, the Physicians Committee is alarmed by the poor state of health of many Americans, the glaring health disparities between people who are economically challenged and those of means, and the continuing poor diet habits in children and the lack of progress in preventing childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions directly linked to poor diets.

This year, Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act that contains several child nutrition programs set to expire September 30, 2015. In the process, many in Congress are eager to weaken school nutrition standards—in particular, the fruit and vegetable requirement. The losers in this Congressional food fight will be low-income children who rely on these programs and continue to live with or be at risk of chronic health conditions.

We must not only maintain the nutrition standards in school breakfast and lunch as set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (PL 111-296), but go further to ensure low-income children have access to the most healthful foods by making these changes to all child nutrition programs:

  • Eliminating processed meats, which significantly increase the risk of colon cancer such that the American Institute on Cancer Research found no amount is safe to eat.
  • Requiring the option of a healthful plant-based meal.
  • Encouraging Congress to increase funds to schools and increase the reimbursement for breakfast and lunch to cover the increased cost of labor, school kitchen upgrades, food products, nutrition education for both food service workers and students, and ancillary costs to reinforce a healthier lifestyle in the school environment.

Encouraging healthier eating at an early age instills healthier habits for a lifetime and can be reinforced at school, at work, at home, and in the community. If the Administration is serious about improving the health of our nation, now is the time for action.

It’s not too late to sign our petition: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/lay-out-bold-plan-state-union-address-improving-america%E2%80%99s-health/ffnGXVPM

Dick Cheney: Plant-Based Diets Can Prevent a Medical Odyssey

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, describes his harrowing 30-year battle with heart disease, including five heart attacks and having to say goodbye to his family when he feared he would die from the disease. His excellent team of physicians and surgeons has provided him lifesaving medical care and he is on the mend. But I wrote to him today and asked that as he promotes his book he let people know that adopting a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease and the traumas he and his family endured.

Oct. 18, 2013

Dear Former Vice President Cheney,

I’m happy to hear your excellent team of physicians and surgeons has provided you lifesaving medical care and that you are finally on the mend from your five heart attacks and 30-year battle with heart disease. Surgery saved you, but others can avoid that fate. As you promote your new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, please let people know that adopting a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease. It’s something millions of Americans need to do for themselves—and their loved ones.

Nearly 8 million people in the United States have had a heart attack, and 800,000 people die each year from heart disease. But a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who improved their eating habits the most after a heart attack had a better chance of surviving. A diet lowest in red and processed meat products and highest in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables lowered the risk of death from heart disease by 40 percent, compared with no dietary changes.

I hope you’ll consider making some of these changes to maintain—and likely improve—your current heart health. But it’s not only your heart that will benefit.

A plant-based diet doesn’t only help people suffering from heart disease—countless studies show that it fights obesity, diabetes, cancer, and dementia, to name a few diseases. And vegetarian diets just help you live longer. A new study by Dean Ornish, M.D., found that men who adopted a low-fat, plant-based diet, may slow the aging process.

So do it for yourself. But also do it for your family and friends, who have suffered with you and would ultimately grieve your untimely loss from heart disease or any cause.

The American Heart Association says that caregivers who devote themselves to their loved ones to the exclusion of their own needs become ill, and that caregivers who experience mental or emotional strain have a 63 percent higher risk of death than noncaregivers. There’s also a financial toll. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that families who experience heart disease deal with medical bills, lost wages, and decreased standard of living.

I’ve enclosed a copy of my book 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart which explains the many health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. It also includes a three-week meal plan and recipes. Please let me know if I can offer you any other guidance.

I hope you try a plant-based diet for your health. If not for yourself, do it for someone you love.

Sincerely,

Neal Barnard, M.D.
President
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave, Ste. 400
Washington, DC 20016

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