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The Physicians Committee

Yank the Hot Dogs from Schools

Ana M. Negrón, M.D.

Candy and cupcakes have been banned from some classrooms and school cafeterias across the country. Many schools, in their determination to fight obesity and encourage more healthful diets, have banned the sale of soft drinks.

Should schools do the same with hot dogs?

Why pick on hot dogs — an American favorite?

As a physician in the greater Philadelphia area, I have seen unhealthful foods increasingly contribute to Pennsylvania’s epidemic of obesity and other medical problems, especially in our young. Sadly, this problem is occurring nationwide.

Hot dogs and other processed meats contain artery-clogging fat and cholesterol. But they also pose a unique health threat, since they can increase the risk of cancer in adulthood. According to a recent report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, “processed meat is a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.” This risk increases by more than 20 percent for every 50 grams (about the size of a hot dog) of processed meat consumed daily.

The nonprofit Cancer Project took the results of the aforementioned valuable research and armed it with practical action. I serve on the advisory broad of this organization, which in early October filed a federal petition urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy and reimbursement under the federal school breakfast and lunch programs. The petition asks the USDA to encourage schools to include alternatives to processed meat products.

The occasional hot dog may seem innocent enough, but Americans eat a lot of processed meat — ham, bacon, pastrami, pepperoni, salami, hot dogs, sausages. A 2005 USDA report showed that average consumption of processed pork products (lunch meat, bacon, sausage, smoked ham) was 31.8 pounds per capita. Americans consumed more than 1.5 billion pounds of hot dogs in 2006.

Once upon a time hot dogs and other processed meats were party foods, but now they are staples in school meals. In Philadelphia, for example, elementary, middle and high schools serve processed meats for breakfast every day of the school week , according to a recent survey by the Cancer Project. According to the survey, school districts with the most processed meat at lunch include Atlanta; Chicago; Clark County, Nev.; Prince George’s County, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Hancock, W.Va.; New York City; and Detroit.

The motion to ask the federal government to ban hot dogs from schools is a conservative one, given that about 150,000 Americans will develop colon cancer or rectal cancer in 2008, according to the National Cancer Institute. Colorectal cancer, the fourth most common cancer, will kill nearly 50,000 people this year in the United States.

It is critical that the government stops subsidizing unhealthy foods.

When parents, schools, and doctors come together and demand more fresh fruits, carrots, broccoli and other vegetables, nutritious meatless options, such as rice and beans, oats and other whole grains, and model healthful nutrition, the children will learn to demand it for themselves. In the meantime, it’s up to the adults to ensure that children are making healthier choices.

Ana M. Negrón, M.D., is a PCRM member doctor.


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