Processed meats are strongly linked to colorectal cancer, yet they are widely consumed and made available to schools as a commodity food.
The Institute of Medicine's report School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children raised concerns about the use of processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage, in school meals because of cancer risk. Processed meats also increase the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Here below is a summary of the evidence to date:
Consuming processed meats increases the risk of colorectal cancer, according to a large number of studies, including the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study.
An NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found that, for every 10 grams of processed red meat consumed on a daily basis, prostate cancer risk increases 10 percent.
A study in Taiwan showed that consumption of cured and smoked meat can increase children’s risk for leukemia.
A study in Australia found that women’s risk for ovarian cancer increased as a result of eating processed meats.
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that a daily serving of processed meats, like one hot dog, sausage, or a few bacon strips, consumed on a daily basis increases the risk of premature death from heart disease or cancer by 20 percent.
The federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that processed meats are a major contributor of solid fats and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A review in the journal Diabetologia found that those who regularly eat processed meats increase their risk for diabetes by 41 percent.
Because numerous studies have repeatedly shown that frequent processed meat consumption is associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer and other forms of cancer, the WCRF/AICR SECOND REPORT recommended avoiding any consumption of processed meat products. And, according to that same report, consuming just one 50-gram serving of processed meat (about the amount in one hot dog) per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent. Few people, other than cancer researcher and food-industry scientists are aware of the well-established link between consumption of processed meat and the development of colorectal cancer. We have a duty to protect consumers, especially children, from the risks associated with consumption of processed meats.
Therefore, our policy recommendation as part of the AJPM childhood obesity challenge is the removal of processed meats from the National School Lunch Program, including the commodity foods list. We urge the USDA to Protect Our Kids with a Ban on Processed Meat.
Processed meat products are those prepared and/or preserved by curing, smoking, salting, or adding chemical preservatives. These products include hot dogs, ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, bologna, liverwurst, bratwurst, sausage, luncheon meat, and, depending on the processing, hamburgers and minced meats.
In determining the nutritional quality of a school lunch, the USDA considers many factors. School lunches must meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. However, the USDA fails to look at other attributes of food in determining whether it is healthful for inclusion in the school lunch menu. Overall healthfulness goes beyond caloric content, fat, and cholesterol. Both the food itself and the cooking process must be examined, including their contribution to risk of cancer and exposure to any other risk of disease or ailment through the National School Lunch Program and Commodity Programs.
There are many alternative menu items for schools to consider in lieu of processed meat. Some schools are already embracing more healthful plant-based options such as black beans and rice, veggie chili, veggie burgers, vegetable and tofu stir-fry, and hummus and pita bread.
In order to protect the health and well-being of the nation’s children, the USDA must eliminate the availability of processed meats through the Child Nutrition Commodity Programs including the National School Lunch Program. This will allow us the USDA to meet its responsibilities to the nation’s children. We eagerly look forward to being part of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine’s Childhood Obesity Challenge focused on Policy where we Protect Our Kids with a Ban on Processed Meats in the National School Lunch Program.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) promotes preventive medicine through good nutrition.
Founder and President, Neal Barnard, M.D., has been the principal investigator on clinical trials examining the effects of diet on health, including two published school lunch dietary interventions. Dr. Barnard is the author of dozens of publications in scientific and medical journals as well as numerous nutrition books for lay readers. He also serves as a reviewer for medical and scientific journals. He is a frequent lecturer at scientific and lay conferences and has made presentations for the American Diabetes Association, American Public Health Association, the World Bank, the National Library of Medicine, and many other medical and scientific organizations.
Additional team members at PCRM include dietitians, nurses, and other health educators. We focus on developing and disseminating nutrition education, classes, and continuing medical education on the health benefits of a