Why Change School Food?

Why Change School Food?

  • Many students don’t have access to enough food, or healthy food, at home, and so it is critical that students get not just enough food, but healthy food at school.
  • For students who are eating healthfully at home, schools should not be undermining their parents’/caregivers’ efforts. 
  • Our taxpayer dollars pay for school food. Those dollars should be spent on health-supporting foods, not foods that contribute to disease. 

The food system in our society has been co-opted by a profit-motivated industry that has purposely made processed food addictive (Read Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss) and cheap. School food has gotten a bad rap, but it’s no worse, and in many cases, it is better than what children may be eating outside of school. Despite regulations intended to make school food healthier, the offerings at many schools still mimic processed fast food (with lower calories, sodium, and fat) and since juice can count as a fruit many children are not eating fruits or vegetables at school… or at home. 


The health impact is devastating:

  • 40% of children and teens and 74% of adults are overweight or obese. 
  • 50% of children between the ages of 2 – 15 already have fatty streaks in their arteries, literally early-stage heart disease.
  • 7% of children and teens and 11% of adults have high cholesterol.
  • Children as young as 8 years old being prescribed cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering drugs.
  • Nearly 4% of teens and 45% of adults have high blood pressure.
  • Type 2 diabetes, formerly called “adult-onset” is becoming increasingly more common in elementary children – 23,000 children and teens in the US have type 2 diabetes.
  • 33% of all US children will end up with type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives, and about 35% of adults have prediabetes.
  • 40 – 53% of African American and Latino children will get type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.
  • 35% of cancer deaths are caused by diet, and processed meats, on most school menus (New York City removed them), are Group 1 Carcinogens, according to the World Health Organization, known to cause cancer in humans. 
  • Research funded by the National Cancer Institute shows that milk and dairy products may be associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. 
  • Milk and dairy products are linked to increased prostate cancer risk due to the hormone-insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), saturated fat, and animal-based protein.
  • Red and processed meat and eggs are associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.


Racism in the US Dietary Guidelines:

Written by Patricia Bertron, RD, Neal D. Barnard, MD, and Milton Mills, MD and published in the Journal of the National Medical Association


A Pie That’s Hard to Swallow – Or Why Do We Have These Health Impacts:

(Click on image below to open a .pdf in a new window)


The environmental impact is devastating: 

  • Animal agriculture is a top contributor to climate change. For our children’s future, we must move toward a plant-based diet.
  • According to the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas production.
  • According to a World Bank Study published in World Watch Magazine, using data from the United Nations study, and taking into consideration several factors that were excluded, animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas production.
  • According to the Journal Science, avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
  • According to the Journal Nature, a huge reduction will be required in animal product consumption to avoid climate breakdown, including a 90% reduction in beef and a 60% reduction in dairy.
  • Schools wanting to show that they care about their students’ future should offer Climate Friendly foods (plant-based/vegan) in the school cafeteria.
  • Friends of the Earth did a pilot study at Oakland, CA schools after they switched to more plant-based options and showed that the schools saved $42,000 over the course of the two year pilot and achieved carbon savings that would have cost millions of dollars to achieve through technology.


Let’s practice what we teach:

Schools are the place where children go to learn. When our kids board the school bus, leave from home, or are dropped off at school, we expect the school to act in the place of parents to protect our children. Learning how to eat and live healthfully are important life lessons that should be taught at school (because not all children learn this at home). It is important for the food in schools to be consistent with the nutrition lessons students learn about healthy eating that are evidence based. Unfortunately, due to industry influence students are also taught to eat foods (and beverages) that contribute to poor health. 

  • Hungry Kids Need Healthy School Food. For students that depend on food at school to meet their needs for enough food, it’s especially important that the food be healthy.
  • For students that eat healthy at home, schools should not be undermining the parents’ efforts to feed their children healthfully.
  • Free, reduced price, and even a portion of “paid” meals are subsidized by our federal (and often state) tax dollars. These funds should provide foods known to be health supporting and not foods that are known to contribute to disease.
  • It’s a good idea to provide choices – we all have different tastes, but all choices should be healthy.