A 'Cholesterol Bailout' Exacerbates Child Health Crisis

Today I asked President Obama to cancel a bailout. But this one isn't measured in dollars and cents. It's measured in pounds of saturated fat and grease. My letter urges President Obama to cancel a huge “cholesterol bailout” planned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just announced a federal plan to buy millions of pounds of pork to boost hog farmers’ income. These high-fat meat products will then be dumped on the National School Lunch Program and other federal food assistance programs. I explained to President Obama that, as a physician and nutrition researcher, I think the move will wreak havoc on children’s health.

Vilsack has announced that huge additional payments will be made to lamb, turkey, and dairy producers -- and that their products will also go into school lunches. These announcements come days after the publication of a new study from the National Cancer Institute showing that pork, beef and other meats raise the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Our students desperately need healthful school lunches. One in five children is overweight. One in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life. Payments that favor meat, cheese, and other high-cholesterol foods today translate into even more obesity, heart disease, and diabetes tomorrow.

We need support for vegetables, fruits, and other low-fat vegetarian foods, not more sausage and cheeseburgers. As Congress prepares to revise the Child Nutrition Act, which regulates the National School Lunch Program, I hope President Obama's administration sets an example by making healthful school foods a priority.

The USDA should select foods based on current scientific evidence about the role of diet in health. Instead of bailing out pork producers and dumping their unhealthy products in school lunch lines, the government should allocate money to help schools serve nutritious foods that would promote the health of our future generations.