This week, Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday. While we honor the occasion and also congratulate her on years of hard work with the Let’s Move campaign, news of her big day comes alongside news regarding diminished school lunch standards and reports of junk-food marketing in schools. It’s impossible not to wonder—how many of today’s kids will be healthy when they reach 50?
More than one-third of children are overweight or obese, putting them at an increased risk for a whole host of problems: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and even cancer. These kids are our future. But when we see what school lunches really look like, the future starts to seem grim. The First Lady has certainly made momentous efforts to draw attention to this issue, but we have yet to see the changes necessary to subdue the rising tide of childhood obesity. We’re starting to see a generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That said, it’s not too late for action. There are many ways governments, schools, and parents can team up to get things back on track. But let’s start by getting processed meat out of school lunches. It’s an easy change with a big impact. There are so many other versatile and cholesterol-free options—beans, quinoa, and legumes. Processed meat is strongly linked with colorectal cancer, and the cholesterol and saturated fat contribute to cardiovascular troubles. There are many more steps that need be taken, but getting the worst out of school lunches is a key first step. Michelle Obama has both the power and the responsibility to take a stand and change our nation’s future for the better. Let’s hope that as the party winds down and the guests go home, our government commits to making sure every child has the nutrition resources necessary to see 50, and many decades beyond in the best of health.
Here is a special guest blog post from Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., the Physicians Committee’s director of nutrition education, discussing her experience this week at the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing:
In the classic film Soylent Green, the main character discovers that the titular food product is actually made of human remains. The end of the movie features an iconic scene with Charlton Heston being carried away as he yells, "Soylent Green is people!" Even though this is a science fiction movie from 1973, the fight still rages on between what’s good for consumers and what makes the food industry money.
At the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing today at the National Institutes of Health, physicians, dietitians, and other health care professionals took on the role of Charlton Heston, trying to warn the advisory committee about the dangers of meat and dairy products. Everyone with a stake—financial or otherwise—in America’s eating habits was invited to present their testimony to the advisory committee. Health care professionals were flanked by representatives from major companies who have a financial investment in what Americans eat. To protect their profits, the meat and dairy lobbyists came out in full force.
Even though processed meat products are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, these products provide a source of revenue for people who have concerns other than our health. I presented evidence from multiple sources showing the health detriments of red and processed meat. I urged for similar language to the World Cancer Research Fund, which has stated that no amount of processed meat is safe for consumption. Compared to hot dogs, Soylent Green starts to seem like a pretty good option.
I also proposed that the advisory committee reassess their dairy recommendations. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines acknowledged that high-fat dairy products are the biggest source of saturated fat in our diets. However, even low-fat dairy options are high in calories and can contribute to certain forms of cancer. So why recommend fatty dairy when leafy greens offer an excellent danger-free source of calcium?
Fortunately, none of the protagonists at the hearing were carried screaming from the room, like in Soylent Green, so hopefully our message was heard. It’s time for the USDA and DHHS to support the best interests of our nation’s health and not capitulate to the financial interests of the meat and dairy industries.
This week, we’re all counting down to the start of a new year. How was 2013 for you? Did you quit smoking or complete our 21-Day Vegan Kickstart? Did you improve your diet and kick your diabetes medications to the curb? 2013 was a big year for health-conscious people. So we’re counting down with this list of some of the major trends from 2013! Hopefully everyone has a healthy, happy new year! Let’s keep the good habits rolling into 2014 and beyond. Here are a few of the noteworthy events of the year: 5 Healthy Trends
- Vegan Fast-Food Options: In February, Chipotle launched its plant-based Sofrita in the Bay Area. Due to popular demand, the test launch rapidly increased to include all of California. By October, the Sofrita had reached the East Coast! Subway also jumped on the vegan fast-food bandwagon and debuted a falafel sandwich at select East Coast locations. Dominos has also dipped their toe into the vegan international market, by releasing a vegan pizza in Israel.
- The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart: Our global Kickstart programs reached a total of 300,000 participants! Kickstart Japan was just added to the lineup of international Kickstart programs. All of the programs help reverse the problems of meat and dairy products with plant-based recipes and resources.
- Plant-Based Thanksgiving: After the release of the turkey-friendly movie Free Birds, The New York Times featured more than 600 vegetarian and vegan recipes in their Thanksgiving recipe database.
- Healthy School Lunches: P.S. 244Q in Queens, N.Y., won the grand prize in this year’s Golden Carrot Award with their completely vegetarian school cafeteria menu.
- Meatless Monday: This year, Meatless Monday marked their 10th anniversary! With schools, city councils, restaurants, and hospital across the globe participating in Meatless Mondays, the program is more popular than ever.
4 Vegan Celebrities
- Just in time for Thanksgiving, Al Gore transitioned to a plant-based diet—helping improve his health and the environment.
- Tia Mowry went public with how a vegan diet helped her get healthy—and start a family!
- For Jay Z’s 44th birthday, he and Beyoncé adopted a 22-day vegan diet. They frequented vegan restaurants, uploading photos to Instagram and promoting plant-based recipes. They started it as an experiment, but hopefully they’ll like it so much they’ll decide to put a ring on it.
- Santa Claus is vegetarian! At the prompting of his elves, Santa made the switch to a vegetarian diet so his belly no longer shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
3 Big Events
- At the Physicians Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain, the world’s leading experts shared their insights on how foods can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other serious conditions. We also unveiled our Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention. Lectures from the conference are available online at no cost—health care providers can also earn CME credit.
- To win the debate of the century, Gene Baur and I squared off against two opponents on the proposition “Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.”
- Among PCRM’s many big events, our Hamptons fundraiser, at the home of John Bradham, supported our work to raise awareness of how diet can prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
2 Innovative Food Inventions
- Treeline Cheese launched a hard nut cheese now available at grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Made of cashews and entirely plant-based, it is tangy, creamy, and cholesterol free.
- The first in-vitro burger debuted this year in the U.K. While meat is still an unhealthful food item, this advancement does remove the slaughter of animals and allows for the potential removal of the artery-clogging components.
1 New Book
- Power Foods for the Brain: In February, I released Power Foods for the Brain and gave talks all across the country. Along with our new PBS show on the same topic, we helped people learn how to use food to combat memory loss.
There were many more items we could have picked, and so much more coming for the new year!
1907 New York Times Article Shows that Meat Causes Cancer. A century later, many people still haven’t heard the news.
In a recent NPR debate about the risks of meat-eating, I put forward the proposition that meat causes cancer. Judging by faces in the audience, this was a new idea. While everyone understands the link between cancer and cigarettes, the link with meat has somehow escaped notice. I cited two enormous studies—the 2009 NIH-AARP study, with half a million participants, and a 2012 Harvard study with 120,000 participants. In both studies, meat-eaters were at higher risk of a cancer death, and many more studies have shown the same thing. How does meat cause cancer? It could be the heterocyclic amines—carcinogens that form as meat is cooked. It could also be the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or the heme iron in meat, or perhaps its lack of fiber and paucity of antioxidants. But really the situation is like tobacco. We know tobacco causes lung cancer, even though no one yet knows exactly which part of the tobacco smoke is the major culprit. And although meat-eaters clearly have higher cancer rates, it is not yet clear which part of meat does the deed. The tragedy is this: The link between meat and cancer has been known for more than a century. On September 24, 1907, the New York Times published an article entitled “Cancer Increasing among Meat Eaters,” which described a seven-year epidemiological study showing that meat-eaters were at high cancer risk, compared with those choosing other staples. Focusing especially on immigrants who had abandoned traditional, largely planted-based, diets in favor of meatier fare in the U.S., the lead researcher said, “There cannot be the slightest question that the great increase in cancer among the foreign-born over the prevalence of that disease in their native countries is due to the increased consumption of animal foods….” Over the past century, meat eating in America has soared, as have cancer statistics. USDA figures show that meat eating rose from 123.9 pounds of meat per person per year in 1909 to 201.5 pounds in 2004. The good news is that many have woken up and smelled the carcinogens. They know there is plenty of protein in beans, grains, and vegetables, and that traditional Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese foods—and endless other cuisines—turn these plant-based staples into delicious and nourishing meals. Meat eating has fallen about one percent every year since 2004. If you haven’t yet kicked the habit, the New Year is the perfect time to do it. We’ve got you covered with our Kickstart programs, books, DVDs, and everything else you’ll ever need. Let’s not wait another hundred years.
Ninety-seven percent of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets is contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick, according to a new Consumer Reports study. That’s important to remember. But it’s a bit like saying 97 percent of cigarettes could give you bad breath. Compared to the numerous other negative health impacts of eating chicken, food poisoning might actually be the least of your worries. Foodborne illnesses are a serious threat to public health—taking the lives of about 3,000 Americans annually—and the poultry industry has no excuse for selling bacteria-laden meat. But contaminated or not, chicken is not safe to eat—it never has been. Many people are surprised to learn that chicken is one of the top sources of saturated fat and the second leading source of cholesterol in the American diet. In these respects, it ranks right up there with burgers, bacon, and beef. Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol lead to blocked arteries, stroke, and heart attack. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is responsible for one out of every four deaths. A passion for poultry also puts Americans at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Chicken is the leading source of HCAs—heterocyclic amines—which are cancer-causing chemicals that form as meat—especially chicken—is cooked. It’s time we started recognizing these diet-related conditions as the other foodborne illnesses… and tracing them back to chicken.
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