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The Physicians Committee



Our Ever-Fatter Kids: Are School Lunches Part of the Problem?

Kids today are more out of shape than any generation in U.S. history. And what they eat at school is adding to the trouble. So PCRM nutritionists went into the schools to rate the lunches that are being served.

The review included the largest districts in the United States and granted high scores to schools serving low-fat vegetable side dishes, fruit, meatless and vegan entrées, and nondairy, calcium-rich beverages.

There were some bright spots—especially in areas of Michigan, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina—as well as some terribly unhealthy menus in, of all places, in the nation’s capitol. Here’s how districts measured up.

Bucking the Trend
The “most improved player” award went to the Detroit City School District, which scored 94 percent this year—a remarkable improvement over last year’s score of 57 percent. Fruits (spiced apples, oranges, fresh pears), vegetables (sweet potatoes, green vegetables, black-eyed peas), calcium-fortified juices, meatless entrées, and whole-grain breads are now offered daily, as well as vegan burgers three times per week. And students can always find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Innovative Nutrition Education Programs
The Philadelphia City School District, in partnership with Drexel University, developed a program to help children connect healthy eating with a healthy body. Its “Dragon Detective Agency” makes nutrition fun with lessons such as “ReThink Your Drink” and “Inspector Veg E. Table,” as well as physical activity programs for weight management.

Overall, Clark County School District in Las Vegas scored low, but it deserves recognition for a unique curriculum titled “Calcium Isn’t Just Milk,” which focuses on calcium-rich foods such as beans and green, leafy vegetables.

A Long Way to Go
While Detroit flourishes, vegetarian children in the District of Columbia are out of luck. Meatless entrées are offered just once per week. With the rate of childhood obesity on the rise in D.C., public schools should teach sensible eating habits by making vegan options readily available. In view of the high percentage of Hispanic and African American children in D.C., a non-dairy source of calcium for lactose-intolerant kids is in order.

  • The major killers of Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke–have a dramatically lower incidence among people consuming vegetarian diets.
  • The Centers for Disease Control found that 60 percent of overweight five- to ten-year-olds already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as raised blood pressure.
  • Numerous scientific studies link cow’s milk to obesity, anemia, ear infections, constipation, respiratory problems, heart disease, and some cancers.

Roadblocks to Health
School districts face a number of challenges. Every year, the USDA buys millions of pounds of excess beef, pork, milk, and other meat and dairy products to bolster sagging prices in the livestock industry. These products are then distributed at very low cost to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), where they can fuel a child’s life-long struggle against obesity and heart disease.

It costs a school district more than twice as much to provide a low-fat, cholesterol-free veggie burger than it does to provide a high-fat hamburger because government subsidies cover only hamburger meat.

Despite strong encouragement from health experts, the NSLP does not reimburse calcium-fortified soymilk or orange juice. Again, schools must shoulder the financial burden of providing alternatives to cow’s milk.

The USDA does not provide recipes featuring plant-based entrées and often fails to enforce its own nutrition guidelines, which require schools to serve meals with less than 30 percent of calories from fat. To fully succeed in offering healthy lunches, school districts need help from Congress and the USDA.

Parents are encouraged to visit www.HealthySchoolLunches.org for resources and to urge their local senators and representatives to ensure only healthy commodity foods are allowed in the NSLP. 

Schools Were Rated For:

   

Low-Fat Vegetable Side Dish:

15

 

Whole or Dried Fruit:

15

 

Meatless Entrée (Hot or Cold):

15

 

Featured Meatless, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free (Vegan) Entrée:

15

 

Vegan Entrée Option:

15

 

TOTAL

75

 

 

+20

for meeting NSLP nutrition guidelines

 

+5

for offering nondairy, calcium-rich beverages

TOTAL

100

Points

 

District

Location

Score

Grade

Group 1: Class Act

Detroit City School District

Detroit, Mich.

94%

A

Group 2: Solid Achievers

Miami-Dade County School District

Miami, Fla.

89%

B+

Gwinnett County Public School District

Lawrenceville, Ga.

88%

B+

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

Charlotte, N.C.

87%

B+

Fairfax County Public School District

Fairfax, Va.

86%

B

Pinellas County School District

Largo, Fla.

Broward County School District

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

85%

B

Hillsborough County School District

Tampa, Fla.

New York City Public School District

New York, N.Y.

81%

B-

Philadelphia City School District

Philadelphia, Pa.

80%

B-

Group 3: Passable Performers

Montgomery County Public School District

Rockville, Md.

78%

C+

Prince George's County Public School District

Upper Marlboro, Md.

Dallas Independent School District

Dallas, Texas

77%

C+

Palm Beach County School District

Riviera Beach, Fla.

76%

C

Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles, Calif.

71%

C-

San Diego City Unified School District

San Diego, Calif.

70%

C-

Group 4: Failing Programs

Clark County School District

Las Vegas, Nevada

59%

F

District of Columbia Public Schools

Washington, D.C.

46%

F



 

Autumn 2003
Volume XII
Number 4

Good Medicine
ARCHIVE

 
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