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The Physicians Committee

How to Pack Healthy School Lunches for Kids

August 26, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   school lunch


Want to give your kids the best start when they head back to school this year? Send them off to class with healthy, colorful plant-based lunches!

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients that will help children stay energized throughout the school day. As an added bonus, eating these foods will help them build healthy habits for life. Studies show that vegetarian diets are linked to a lower risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

For the past few years, students at one New York elementary school have already been enjoying healthy plant-based lunches. The Active Learning Elementary School (TALES) in Queens is one of the first public schools in the nation to adopt an all-vegetarian menu. Gone are the days of pink slime and mystery meat; TALES students happily eat meals like Teriyaki Crunchy Tofu and Super Hero Spinach Wraps. Since making the switch to an all vegetarian menu, the school’s principal, Robert Groff, reports that average BMI has decreased, while test scores and energy levels have gone up. The best part? Principal Groff reports that students are asking their parents for brown rice and broccoli outside of the lunchroom!

Want to give it a try in your kids’ lunches? Watch Physicians Committee dietitian Karen Smith, R.D., and her daughters, Lauren and Carli, share their favorite kid-tested and dietitian-approved plant-based lunches to pack for school!

Get the recipes from the video here:

Vegetable Chili


Rice and Beans

Rainbow Sandwich: whole wheat bread, hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, shredded purple cabbage, avocado slices


McDonald’s: Quit Clowning Around with Kids’ Health

August 18, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   children's health


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.

Theaters Ban Our ‘Sausage Party’ Cancer Ad

August 17, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   processed meat, cancer, colorectal cancer, men's health


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.


Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids

August 11, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan, children's health


Four Ways Vegan Diets Can Benefit Kids

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. 

At the same time, the majority of children consume an excess of artery-clogging saturated fat, which is primarily found in dairy products and meat. And 9 in 10 children eat too much sodium.

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.

U.S. Soldiers Need to Slim Down

August 10, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


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.


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