Stanton Heights residents in campaign to take milk out of school lunches
July 28, 2012 8:00 AM
Billboard showing Stanton Heights resident Leah Lizarondo-Shannon, her husband Bill Shannon and their two children saying "Let's move milk out of school lunch."
By Mackenzie Carpenter Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Get milk? Or forget it?
The battle between pro- and anti-dairy advocates over the health effects of milk has been going on for years in the news media and Washington, D.C., and a new billboard going up on Capitol Hill is trying to ratchet up the volume, with help from a Stanton Heights family.
On Aug. 1, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine will put up advertisements in Washington's Union Station Metro stop -- located close to U.S. Senate buildings and a busy crossroads for travelers -- showing Stanton Heights resident Leah Lizarondo-Shannon, her husband Bill Shannon and their two children saying "Let's move milk out of school lunch."
"If my son wants to have a nondairy option, he should be able to, but he doesn't have any choice," Ms. Lizarando-Shannon said, noting that her son Arto, 7, is sensitive to lactose. A nutrition counselor by profession and a vegan -- which means she forgoes both meat and dairy in her diet -- she's belonged to the 120,000-member, nonprofit Physicians' Committee for years. So when she heard about the ad campaign, she readily agreed to pose with her family for it. "There's a really strong movement out there for plant-based options, and I wanted to help in any way I could," she said.
While Ms. Lizerando-Shannon likes Arto's school, Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5, very much, she doesn't like his lack of healthy lunch options. "I don't want to curb anyone's choices, but sugared milk? That's a nonnegotiable with me."
The ad campaign to make school lunches more healthy -- with vegetables and fruit instead of sugary drinks and dairy products -- are based on the premise that these foods are directly linked to surging rates of obesity and health problems in this country.
The group is also taking aim at what it calls First Lady Michelle Obama's "sputtering 'Let's Move' campaign" which "needs to get back in gear," according to a statement by the Physicians' Committee released Friday.
"The 'Let's Move' campaign has abandoned any major effort to improve the nation's nutrition," the group said, "focusing instead on noncontroversial recommendations about exercise. That strategy will not combat skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol."
The White House press office didn't respond to a request for comment on the ad campaign.
Federal statistics show that a third of American children are obese or overweight, with about 40 percent of the day's calories consumed in the school lunch period -- high fat, high calorie food that includes plenty of dairy, from cheesy pizza to chocolate-flavored milk. The average American now eats 75 pounds more meat per year and 30 pounds more cheese, compared with a century ago. Sugar intake has increased as well. The biggest source of "bad fat" (saturated fat) in the diet is dairy products. In July, PCRM petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove milk as a required food group in the National School Lunch Program. Ounce for ounce, skim milk offers almost the same calorie load as soda plus 5 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. Several studies also show that milk does not promote bone health or prevent fractures.
But efforts to improve the nutritional value of the nation's $11 billion school lunch program, which fed 30 million children last year, has stalled in Congress, thanks to opposition by food companies, farm state senators and legislators from low-income urban areas, who argue that any major change in food guidelines will be enormously expensive.
Plus, they argue, will the children opt for a peach over a Good Humor bar? Or salad instead of french fries?
The removal of dairy products from school lunches, not to mention official federal nutritional guidelines, has been a non-starter in Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While new research shows milk has no health benefits and may actually cause health problems, many mainstream medical professionals shrug off the studies, saying that consumption of low-fat dairy products isn't harmful to health and, if anything, are less expensive than a diet reliant on high-fiber, plant-based foods.
"We reached out to the 'Let's Move' people and never got a response," she said. "The White House doesn't want to take on any big industries, but government has to stop supporting industry interests over public health interests," said Ms. Levin. "I think Mrs. Obama has done a lot, but it's an uphill battle. Asking people to eat more vegetables is fine, but you also have to address the removal of some foods from your diet, and that hasn't happened."