New York Schools Set to Push Cheese on Kids
Students in New York—many of whom are already overweight—may soon be taught that eating pizza is good for you. As part of New York’s 2006 Ag Literacy Day on March 20, volunteers will read to New York state elementary children the book Extra Cheese Please!: Mozzarella’s Journey from Cow to Pizza, which ends with a girl enjoying a slice of cheese pizza and includes a recipe for the fat-laden snack.
Given the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic, this book is a surprising choice by New York Agriculture in the Classroom. Twenty-eight percent of New York adolescents were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight in 2004, according to the New York Department of Health. Cheese and other dairy products are principal sources of saturated fat and cholesterol.
The goal of Ag Literacy Day is to promote awareness and appreciation of New York state agriculture, and dairy products are New York’s leading agricultural commodity. However, there are many other New York commodities worth promoting to the state's schoolchildren, including apples, grapes, melons, and butternut squash.
PCRM President Neal Barnard, M.D., has written to New York Gov. George Pataki urging him to ask the program’s sponsors to rethink the program. New York Agriculture in the Classroom lists hundreds of agriculture-themed books geared toward elementary-aged schoolchildren on their Web site. The lists include many books about healthful foods such as apples, peanuts, tomatoes, corn, and bread.
Eating habits are established in childhood. These habits can lead to good health or obesity and obesity-related illnesses later in life. Schools should be playing a role in children’s health by promoting active lifestyles and healthy eating habits, not by endorsing high-fat foods.
PCRM’s Healthy School Lunch campaign is working to promote children’s health by improving the food selection at schools and informing educators, parents, and food service staff about the value of nutrition. The campaign recommends that schools serve low-fat vegetarian and vegan entrées as part of the weekly menu and offer nondairy beverages daily.