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'Meatless Mondays' in schools could help combat obesity epidemic

By the Notebook on Feb 3, 2014 03:33 PM

by Lou Ryan

Philadelphia’s children and teens are facing ever-rising rates of obesity, and the school lunch program could be part of the problem. That’s why the Humane League, a nonprofit animal advocacy organization, is encouraging the School District to implement Meatless Monday.

By providing meatless meals to children just one day a week, the District could not only reduce its students’ risk of developing obesity and other chronic diseases, but also improve environmental sustainability.

The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health began promoting Meatless Mondays in 2003 as a public health initiative. Philadelphia joined the growing number of municipalities endorsing the program on Oct. 17, 2013, when City Council unanimously passed a resolution encouraging its residents to participate.

The resolution recognizes the benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which can help combat Philadelphia’s obesity epidemic by reducing saturated fat intake. One study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health illustrates that diets that promote meat consumption might increase the risk for obesity. Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that a plant-based diet is a sensible approach for preventing obesity in children. These are among the many studies confirming that people who consume fewer animal products have lower body mass indices than those whose diets include meat, dairy, and eggs.

Meat isn’t the only threat to our children’s health. Cheese is also extremely high in saturated fat. In fact, cheese is the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet, which has led the Center for Science in the Public Interest to advise cutting back. At a time when Philadelphia’s teenage obesity rate is 4.3 percent above the national average, the highest of the 10 largest cities in the United States, it is more crucial than ever to reduce the amount of fat in children’s diet by helping them cut down on cheese.

In addition to providing healthier meals for our children, Meatless Monday can help reduce the School District’s carbon footprint. According to the United Nations, intensive animal agriculture is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, releasing high amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the air. The livestock sector is also one of the single largest sources of water pollution and land degradation. There is no better way to achieve Mayor Nutter’s goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in America than to reduce its residents’ meat consumption.

Appealing, protein-rich replacements for meat-based dishes include affordable dishes such as hearty vegetable chili and black bean burritos. Going meat-free just once a week gives students the opportunity to discover new favorites while learning about the countless benefits of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

How do the students feel about being served plant-based dishes? A study in the Florida Public Health Review offered vegan menu options at two schools alongside popular dishes such as pepperoni pizza, cheeseburgers, and chicken nuggets. The majority of students at both schools chose the vegan option when it was offered. In addition, kitchen staff deemed the vegan foods easy to prepare.

Numerous school districts across the country, including Los Angeles Unified School District, Detroit Public Schools, and San Diego Unified School District, already participate in the program. To get the School District of Philadelphia on board, all that is needed is a larger push from Philadelphia residents. The District is now in the middle of contract negotiations, making this the best time to make a change that will positively impact our children’s lives.

Please visit PhillyMeatlessMonday.com to learn more and to sign the petition urging the School District of Philadelphia to join cities around the country in implementing Meatless Monday.

Humane League intern Lou Ryan is a full-time student and activist. She currently studies professional writing at Kutztown University, where she has written a number of health-related articles for the student-run newspaper The Keystone.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (32)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 3, 2014 3:54 pm
Two things: 1) I am not sure that what they are serving in the elementary school lunches actually qualifies as meat and, 2) I think that most of us realize that there are more dire threats to the children of Philadelphia's health than cheese.
Submitted by Sheila (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:12 am
You're right, it probably doesn't really qualify as meat, with all the fillers, pink slime, and miscellaneous body parts. But shouldn't that be even more reason to cut down on ONE day where kids up their intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains? Really processed meat is high in sodium, nitrates, and fats. So one day where kids eat less processed food and more vegetable based meals will actually be better for them. Also, teaching children now to like vegetables and fruits will lead to a lifetime appreciation of good for you food.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on February 3, 2014 9:44 pm
Stop! Carry out your nutrition experiments on your own kids. Most of my students diet consists of McDonald's, or something from the Chinese Stores. Because there does not seem to be a whole lot of cooking being done in their homes. With the busy lifestyles of their parents who has time to cook for your own kids?? Meatless Monday will result in more hungry kids to satisfy this author's world view. Nothing wrong with it just impose it on your kids until the are old enough to tell you to chill out. Or perhaps something stronger.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:51 am
Yep. Just another interest group using the schools to further its agenda. Big dumb centralized districts like Philly are easy targets.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:11 am
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is one large failed experiment. Time increase whole grains, starches (the good kind of carbs!), and nutrient dense veggies and turn down the overconsumption of meat and saturated fats. Healthier students means healthier grades.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on February 4, 2014 9:12 am
One more way to spend less on poor children...and then blame them for not being able to concentrate...Canada is looking better and better:-(
Submitted by Anonymous Bro (not verified) on February 4, 2014 9:08 am
This is so great! What a positive move. Its about time we get some healthy options for our kids.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:25 am
Healthy Option????? This is not an option, rather an order on high by people who know better about how you are to at. You shall not eat meat at lunch on Monday. How is that an option??? Diktat not option.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:59 am
Students are free to bring their own lunches to school Monday-Friday without restriction. This is merely a move by school systems to encourage healthy eating. While the school will not provide meat on Mondays, no one is stopping the student from bringing in a ham sandwhich on Monday.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on February 4, 2014 2:34 pm
Now you have gone off the reservation. You apparently know nothing about the Urban school population that you seek to impose your meatless meals upon. If you had ever spent 5 minutes in an urban school in Philadelphia you would realize no one brings a lunch for the the following reasons: 1. Lunch is free. No family is going to spend money on something that the government hands out for free. They are poor not stupid. Since it is the taxpayers job to feed the students so who is bringing a lunch? 2. There are no lunch fixings in the kitchens of my charges. No cooks so there are no leftovers and no one leaves lunch meat out or soy replacement meat like substance 3. The busy parents of our students are too busy to prepare food the night before and are still in bed long after the students have left for school. To say they can bring lunch is a middle class fantasy. If you are planning to impose your dietary restrictions on a population at least do a little research.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 5:15 pm
So, if a student wants to go meatless at lunchtime and they can't bring one in because their parents can't afford it or are too busy to prepare it, they have to either eat meat provided by the school or otherwise go without? You can't have it both ways. In fact you're making a strong case for more meatless meals 5 days a week. I mean after all, you wouldn't want to impose your diet onto those students who would prefer meatless would you?
Submitted by Alex G (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:30 am
Animal products have been linked to all sorts of chronic diseases, from heart disease to cancer. Students don't have the option to smoke cigarettes in the lunchroom. Would you really like to give them the choice to eat something that could kill them? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21682779
Submitted by Alex G (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:08 am
Wow, this is such exciting news! I'm so glad groups are pushing for this. I've been hoping Meatless Mondays would come to Philly for a long time. If the school district implements it, this will be a win-win all around for kids and the school district. I can't wait to see obesity rates fall and budgets stretch further when our kids get healthier vegetarian meals! I do hope they'll eliminate fatty cheese and other dairy on Mondays, too... cheese pizza isn't much better than pepperoni!
Submitted by PhillyPhils91 (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:31 am
So excited to hear this. It's not an experiment, or a personal worldview being implemented on students either. It seems to me that it's just an honest attempt at offering a healthy meal to students who otherwise eat poorly overall. There's nothing wrong with helping the environment an sparing a few animals in the process.
Submitted by Sara H (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:16 am
"Appealing, protein-rich replacements for meat-based dishes include affordable dishes such as hearty vegetable chili and black bean burritos. Going meat-free just once a week gives students the opportunity to discover new favorites while learning about the countless benefits of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains." This is really great news for facilitating healthier kids, healthier school systems and a healthier Philadelphia!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:56 am
result in more hungry kids? i've been meatless for about 3 years now and it has never made me "more hungry". if anything it makes you less hungry because of how much fiber is in plant based foods. they are more nutrient dense, have more fiber, and if protein is something you are worried about then don't forget the existence of lentils and other kinds of beans/legumes! also if you say that you're not sure if what they're serving qualifies as meat, then wouldn't you rather they have a plant based alternative than some kind of mystery meat? i think this will be a good way to turn kids on to more plant based foods.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:19 am
Glad to see Meatless Mondays being considered in the Philly school system. What is not to like about this when meatless meals are absolutely as delish as meat, but without adversely impacting our health and without involving the suffering of animals?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:13 am
result in more hungry kids? i've been meatless for about 3 years now and it has never made me "more hungry". if anything it makes you less hungry because of how much fiber is in plant based foods. they are more nutrient dense, have more fiber, and if protein is something you are worried about then don't forget the existence of lentils and other kinds of beans/legumes! also if you say that you're not sure if what they're serving qualifies as meat, then wouldn't you rather they have a plant based alternative than some kind of mystery meat? i think this will be a good way to turn kids on to more plant based foods.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 10:12 am
There is nothing but good that would come from Meatless Monday. If kids are only getting bad food at home, then this is perhaps the one day a week they will eat and be exposed to good- or at the very least, better- food. Especially if they "grow up" eating this stuff on Mondays beginning in elementary. By 3rd or 4th grade, better food will become second nature to them, and by the time they can make their own decisions they will be more likely to opt for something good! Meatless Monday looks like a win-win to me - I can't believe anyone would not be in favor of such a healthy program for our kids!
Submitted by Kenny (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:11 am
The science is clear: meat-eaters have higher rates of obesity (and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer) than "meat-reducers." If we want to take childhood obesity seriously, we ought to serve less meat in public schools (and at home). I've been doing it. It's easy, and delicious, too.
Submitted by Paul Shapiro (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:12 am
Meatless Mondays are a great way to protect public health and move in a green direction at the same time. Our waists are widening and our world is warming -- eating fewer animals and more plants is a great way to help start reversing both of these trends.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:48 am
You naiveté need to come eat in a a SDP cafeteria...walk a mile in another's moccasins, you fools....NANNY STATE:-(
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 4:17 pm
Vegephobic gastropods never cease to disgust me.
Submitted by Josh (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:54 am
Meatless Monday is a wonderful way to help guide students to eat more fruits and vegetables.With the obesity epidemic growing in our nation's schools, I'm proud that so many are now helping kids go down a healthier track.
Submitted by Alli Clute (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:59 am
Meatless Monday is fantastic! Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins will help children mentally and physically. Thank you for making a step to get American children healthier!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 4, 2014 11:31 am
Excellent development. Exposing children, who are typically bombarded with fast food industry propaganda, to healthy meat-free options is a great move.
Submitted by Andrea G (not verified) on February 4, 2014 12:48 pm
This is amazing! Our children need to realize that vegetarian meals are healthy, filling, and tasty too. I'm so glad the school is taking a step to do this, in case the parents do not have the time or energy to do so themselves. Hopefully they will also see an increase in attention span and test scores like the Bronx school that went fully vegetarian. Not to mention the number of animals it will save.
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on February 4, 2014 12:46 pm
Guess I will pack my kids lunch on Monday's. He likes his fruits and veggies, but shouldn't be denied meat if he wants it becasue of a bunch of fanatics.
Submitted by Stephanie F (not verified) on February 4, 2014 1:41 pm
I would love to see Meatless Mondays take off in Philly schools! I think it's a great initiative and a fantastic way to get kids excited about being healthy, trying new foods, protecting the environment, and living more compassionately. I wish every school was doing it!
Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on February 4, 2014 4:16 pm
This not something educational dollars should be spent on.
Submitted by lauren (not verified) on February 5, 2014 2:23 am
I love the idea of 'Meatless Mondays'. I'm a vegetarian and I can say, from experience, that eating less meat is highly beneficial. As long as you replace it with healthy, nutritious foods, you can be a very healthy and happy vegetarian. To anyone considering eating less meat, I say give it a try and see what you think! A meatless Monday shouldn't be too much of a challenge.
Submitted by jc (not verified) on February 5, 2014 9:14 am
Delicious vegan food is one reason why the number of vegans has doubled in less than 3 years. Here's a video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE Join the revolution! 21-Day Vegan Kickstart http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs

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