Thursday, December 15, 2011


Op-Ed By Betsy Landers and Scott Folsom | San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Pasadena Star News/Whittier Daily News |

12/14/2011 - ONE-THIRD of American children are overweight or obese. More than 12 million adolescents suffer from obesity. What used to be adult onset diabetes has become a childhood disease in the past decade. Poor nutrition promotes this seeming contradiction of obesity and hunger - yet that very contradiction is epidemic in American youth.

The U.S. Congress missed a recent opportunity to unite our nation in the fight against childhood obesity and hunger when they passed an agriculture appropriations bill that included language to weaken the USDA's school nutrition standards. Unfortunately, while engaging in partisan wrangling over whether tomato paste constitutes a vegetable, Congress missed the big picture - the health of America's children.

Because on Nov. 17, Congress in essence declared that pizza is a vegetable.

It's right there in H.R. 2112: The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011-2012 - The Farm Bill. In a bit of legal legerdemain pizza is a vegetable in the School Lunch Program.

Like it or not, Congress is our voice in government. It's the voice of the people. Yet, when Congress raised its voice last month, it was wrong.

It's the law of the land: Pizza is a school lunch vegetable. Despite the epidemic of obesity and hunger and poor health in our youth.

Despite all the scientific evidence that junk food and poor access to quality wholesome food are the major contributing factors. Despite the real progress being made by the Federal School Meal Program and by forward-thinking school districts banning soda and french fries and chicken nuggets and chocolate milk. Despite Michelle Obama and her "Let's Move" campaign and a vegetable garden at the White House. Unless we take action and put our children's health first, our children will be the first generation in American history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. As adults, we have a responsibility to all the children of our nation to give them the same chance at a long, bright future that we had.

Pizza served up as a vegetable is like getting seconds of the cold dish we had a hard time swallowing back when. If you remember the `80s, you may recall that for a brief shining bureaucratic moment ketchup was a legal (if not wholesome) vegetable in school lunches.

Recently, it was like deja vu all over again. This time it wasn't faceless USDA bureaucrats, it was the U.S. Congress in a roll-call vote.

National PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association, has worked to improve child health outcomes since its inception in 1897. These advocacy efforts have led to the creation of the U.S. Public Health Service, the enactment in 1946 of the National School Lunch program (NSLP) and the implementation of school milk programs.

Last year National PTA advocated for the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a law that improved the nutrition quality of all foods served in schools as well as increased access to vital anti-hunger measures - work undone in the Congressional vote of Nov. 17.

Locally, PTA has been part of the LAUSD Cafeteria Improvement Task Force and a supporter of the cafeteria reform movement at L.A. schools. In addition, California State PTA has advocated for legislation to provide our children with quality nutritious food in schools and in their neighborhoods.

American children's weight and cholesterol are going up and their life expectancy and health are going down. And - when you open the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary you probably won't see a slice of pizza illustrating the "vegetable" entry - but you may see a picture of the U.S. Congress next to the entry for "Laughingstock."

Forgive us if we forget to laugh.

  • Betsy Landers is the president of the National PTA. Scott Folsom is a PTA leader in Los Angeles and a health commissioner on the California State PTA Board of Managers.

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