These days, childhood obesity and related health issues are receiving plenty of well-deserved attention. This year, President Barack Obama created the first ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and First Lady Michelle Obama founded the Let’s Move program to combat childhood obesity. Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has taken note that marketing aimed at kids doesn’t necessarily have their best health in mind, and is telling Ronald McDonald that it’s time to retire. While we encourage all Americans to make healthy and compassionate dietary choices, impressionable young children are especially vulnerable to corporate symbols that, as fun as they seem, encourage unhealthy choices and animal cruelty.
As a pediatrician, I know that there is cause for all of this concern. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are obese. In a recent study, researchers found that almost 32 percent of American children are overweight or obese. That’s nearly one in three. And obesity poses significant health concerns for our nation’s children. Obese kids are more likely than their peers to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes — all of which are risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
By switching to a plant-based diet, Americans can make a compassionate choice for farm animals and experience overall improved health at the same time. In a 2009 study, the American Dietetic Association reported that, in addition to tending to have a lower body mass index, “vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians.”
Increasing the accessibility of plant-based foods would be a step in the right direction for the health of our nation’s children. In March, Representative Jared Polis introduced HR 4870 to the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill, known as the Healthy School Meals Act, would offer financial incentives to public schools that provide their students with healthy plant-based alternatives and non-dairy beverages. Last month, concerned citizens joined Farm Sanctuary and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in a nationwide Citizen Lobbyist Call-In Day in support of this bill, but there’s still more work to be done. Contact your representatives and urge them to increase accessibility to these healthful and compassionate options for children nationwide.