Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pizza as a Vegetable? Not Exactly...

Would you call pizza a vegetable?

Under the current school lunch regulations, a slice of cheese pizza smeared with ¼ cup of tomato sauce qualifies as a serving of vegetables within the lunch program. How can this be? Congress recently overturned a proposal for updated guidelines that would encourage healthy eating and promote well-balanced meals in schools.

Although concerned legislators have fought for some time to refresh these guidelines to reflect healthier standards, big industry has fought hard against instituting the proposed changes. Companies like ConAgra and DelMonte Foods currently provide the majority of food for the school lunch program and don’t want to risk an upset of the status quo. In order to protect their assets, spokespeople for these ubiquitous companies convinced key decision makers that revised guidelines (ie healthier lunches), would lead to more expensive meals that many students would not be able to afford. Additionally, some claim that healthier fare would prove unpopular with many students and create excess waste from thrown-out vegetables and other nutritious options.

This effort was meant to help reduce childhood obesity and minimize subsequent health problems associated with unhealthy meals. Although the updated guidelines would have required a $6 billion dollar budgetary increase, the savings down the line could have been extensive. Healthier children become healthier adults. Obese Americans represent a significant strain on our health care system so if healthy school lunches prevented or delayed obesity, health care costs could drop substantially down the line. This is a big picture issue that needs to be pursued further.

Healthy lunches should be a no-brainer.

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