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NBA Star Asks Congress to Give Students Healthy School Lunches

John Salley

Four-time NBA champion John Salley recently scored one for students’ health by taking on unhealthy school lunches. In letters to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Salley asked Congress to improve child nutrition and fight obesity by helping schools serve more fruits, vegetables, and healthful vegetarian foods.

“As a four-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Lakers, I know a thing or two about staying on top of my game,” wrote Salley, who is the first person in NBA history to play on three different championship-winning teams.

“Succeeding as a champion athlete or champion student takes plenty of nutritious fuel for the mind and body,” says Salley, who is also an actor and sports commentator. “That’s why I’m asking you to reform the Child Nutrition Act: Please help schools serve more healthful foods, including vegetarian options. Grab this opportunity with both hands—the health of our children depends on it.”

The Child Nutrition Act, which regulates the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, has posed a long-standing obstacle to providing students with healthful fare. Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) buys millions of pounds of surplus beef, pork, and other high-fat meat products to distribute to schools. Students end up with unhealthy options, even as schools struggle to provide fruits, vegetables, and low-fat plant-based meals.

Both Lincoln and Pelosi are on committees tasked with reforming the Child Nutrition Act.

The USDA recently asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM)—an independent, nonprofit organization—for guidance on how to revise the Child Nutrition Act to provide students nutritious meals. Last month, the IOM released its report that makes many of the same recommendations PCRM has made to the USDA.

The goal of the IOM’s report, “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” was to develop practical recommendations that “reflect current nutrition science, increase the meals’ contents of key food groups, improve the ability of the school meal programs to meet the nutritional needs of children, foster healthy eating habits, and safeguard children’s health.”

A few of the healthful changes the report recommends are serving more fruits and vegetables (including green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables, and legumes), replacing refined grain products with whole grains, and ensuring the saturated fat content of meals is below 10 percent of total calories.

The best way to reduce the saturated-fat content of school lunches is to provide students with low-fat vegetarian options and nondairy beverages. That’s why PCRM’s Healthy School Lunch petition calls on Congress to provide more vegetables, fruits, vegetarian and vegan meals, and healthful nondairy beverages in every school.

The IOM report also states that “processed meats, especially processed red meats, [have] been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer … less frequent use of even the low-fat versions of these meats may be advisable.”

In 2008, the Cancer Project, an affiliate of PCRM, submitted a petition for rulemaking calling on the USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy, and reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

If the USDA takes the advice it asked for from the IOM—and heeds PCRM’s recommendations—students will finally get the healthy foods they deserve and reduce their risk for chronic diseases.

To sign PCRM’s petition asking Congress for healthy school lunches, visit


PCRM Online, November 2009

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