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Daily News Blog

15
Nov

Call on USDA to Provide Organic School Lunches to Fight Childhood Obesity

(Beyond Pesticides, November 15, 2021) A recent hearing in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research, subcommittee chair Senator Cory Booker stressed the failures of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food and nutrition programs, saying, “Our food system is not a “free market,” we are picking winners and losers, and it’s consumers, family farmers, and food workers who are losing.”

Tell USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to require organic school lunches.

Experts at the hearing pointed out impacts of poor nutrition choices that are driven by USDA’s policies. Associate professor Angela Odoms-Young, PhD of Cornell University said, “People of color overall, and Black populations specifically, face higher rates of diet-related chronic conditions and have poorer dietary intakes as compared to whites. We did not get here by chance but through policy.”

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., leading to a host of health problems in childhood and later in life. Juvenile obesity is highest in Hispanic, African American, and lower income groups, which provides an opportunity for USDA’s school lunch program to have a positive impact. At the hearing, Donald Warne, MD, MPH of the University of North Dakota medical school said obesity rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives were 1.6 times higher than white Americans and diabetes rates were three times higher. Heart disease rates were 50% higher.

Obesity is associated with a number of related health conditions—including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels collectively known as the “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Among the known causes of the metabolic syndrome is exposure to chemicals known as obesogens. Avoiding pesticide exposure is a good way to avoid obesogens, so organic food should be part of every strategy—including school lunch programs—designed to provide nutrition to children.

Although the Senate hearing stressed food choices, how food is produced is also a factor in obesity. Bruce Blumberg, PhD, University of California, Irvine, first hypothesized the theory on the role environmental chemicals play in promoting obesity in 2006. Coining the term “obesogen,” Dr. Blumberg found that a chemical his team was researching for other issues, a now-banned pesticide called tributyltin, happened to be make laboratory mice fat. Since then, research on the issue continues to expand significantly, and government bodies, such as the National Institute for Environmental Health Services, have recognized the role pesticides and other chemicals play in weight gain and the global obesity epidemic.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions to provide “nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.” As part of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the NSLP provides free or reduced cost lunches to qualified children, making it an excellent way to ensure that children can receive obesogen-free meals. However, since many pesticides are obesogens, those school lunches must be organic.

Tell USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to require organic school lunches.

Letter to Food and Nutrition Service Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean, USDA Secretary Vilsack, and Members of Congress:

Consistent with the mission of the Food and Nutrition Service to end hunger and obesity through the administration of 15 federal nutrition assistance programs including WIC, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and school meals, it is important that school lunches be free of chemical obesogens. The only way to ensure this is to require that school lunches be made from organic food.

A recent hearing in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research, subcommittee chair Senator Cory Booker stressed the failures of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food and nutrition programs, saying, “Our food system is not a “free market”, we are picking winners and losers, and it’s consumers, family farmers, and food workers who are losing.”

Experts at the hearing pointed out impacts of poor nutrition choices that are driven by USDA’s policies. Associate professor Angela Odoms-Young, PhD of Cornell University said, “People of color overall, and Black populations specifically, face higher rates of diet-related chronic conditions and have poorer dietary intakes as compared to whites. We did not get here by chance but through policy.”

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., leading to a host of health problems in childhood and later in life. Juvenile obesity is highest in Hispanic, African American, and lower income groups, which provides an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school lunch program to have a positive impact.

Although the Senate hearing stressed food choices, how food is produced is also a factor in obesity. Bruce Blumberg, PhD, University of California, Irvine, first hypothesized the theory on the role environmental chemicals play in promoting obesity in 2006. Coining the term “obesogen,” Dr. Blumberg found that a chemical his team was researching for other issues, a now-banned pesticide called tributyltin, happened to be make laboratory mice fat. Since then, research on the issue continues to expand significantly, and government bodies such as the National Institute for Environmental Health Services have recognized the role pesticides and other chemicals play in weight gain and the global obesity epidemic.

Obesity is associated with a number of related health conditions—including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels collectively known as the “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Among the known causes of the metabolic syndrome is exposure to chemicals known as obesogens. Avoiding pesticide exposure is a good way to avoid obesogens, so organic food should be part of every strategy—including school lunch programs—designed to provide nutrition to children.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions to provide “nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.” The NSLP provides free or reduced cost lunches to qualified children, making it an excellent way to ensure that children can receive obesogen-free meals. However, since many pesticides are obesogens, those school lunches must be organic.

Please initiate policy requiring organic school lunches.

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