Just in time for the observance of National School Lunch Week, the Baltimore City Public School system became the first in the United States to offer its 80,000 students a weekly break from meat and associated chronic diseases. It's a welcome start on a long road to improving our children's and nation's health.
Traditionally, the National School Lunch Program has served as a dumping ground for USDA's surplus meat and dairy commodities. Not surprisingly, USDA's own surveys indicate that 90 percent of American children consume excessive amounts of fat and only 15 percent eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
Consequently, nearly half of American children are overweight, 25 percent have high cholesterol and blood pressure, and 30,000 suffer from Type 2 diabetes, once limited to adults. Their early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, contributing to the escalating public health crisis.
But change is on the way. Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida legislatures have asked their schools to offer daily vegan and vegetarian options. According to the School Nutrition Association, 52 percent of U.S. school districts now do. President Obama is likely to call for similar measures when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized by Congress later this year.
Parents and others who care about our children's health should work with PTAs and school officials to demand healthful plant-based school meals, snacks and vending machine items. They can get additional information at schoolnutrition.org, schoolmeals.nal.usda.gov, healthyschoollunches.org, and choiceusa.net.
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