A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Eating Research suggests the USDA's subsidized lunch program is contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
The USDA provides commodity foods--grains such as rice and pasta; meats and cheeses; fruits and vegetables--to national school lunch programs. There are 180 commodity foods offered to schools and they make up the largest single source of foods for schools, according to the report summary. The report says these foods often set the tone for the entire meal, and many meals are planned around high-fat items.
At the same time, childhood obesity has become an epidemic. The report says that low-income students are disproportionately affected by childhood obesity and they also make up two-thirds of the school lunch program participants.
The study showed that more than 50 percent of commodity foods are sent to processors before they are sent to schools. Processing these foods often means adding fat, sugar and sodium. So cheese goes on pizza, poultry becomes chicken nuggets, and fruit shows up in a dessert item.
In addition, the authors compared the recommendations from the USDA Dietary Guidelines, and the actual funds spent on federal commodity foods. In the report, you see an inverted food pyramid; the bulk of dollars spent on the school lunch program are for meat and dairy products, instead of fruits and vegetables.
Looking at California specifically, school districts spent more than 82 percent of the commodity funds to order meat and cheese items, and only 13 percent of funds on orders of fruit, fruit juice, vegetables and legumes.
The researchers offered some suggestions for addressing the problem:
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