Ninety-nine percent of UK primary schools serve processed meat, despite the growing body of research that highlights it as a danger to both personal and environmental health.
The findings are the result of research conducted by Jimmy Pierson, director of the UK branch of food awareness organization ProVeg International. “The daily hot meal that schools provide is often a child’s main meal of the day, and in some cases their only one,” wrote Pierson for the Independent. “With this in mind we can understand just how crucially important it is that this meal is healthy and nutritious.”
In recent years, more research has revealed that processed meats like sausages and bacon, which are included on the overwhelming majority of school menus throughout the nation, can increase the risk of various chronic illnesses later on in life. A ban on processed meat, meanwhile, could help protect student health.
According to research conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) earlier this year, processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal, lung, stomach, esophagus, and pancreatic cancers. Adopting a plant-based diet, avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol, and adopting a regular exercise regime was found to reduce risk by as much as 40 percent.
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Last May, the World Health Organization advised both adults and children to reduce their consumption of saturated animal fats, including red and processed meat, in order to protect themselves from future heart health issues. Last July, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised expecting mothers and families eat a diet of mainly whole fruits and vegetables to avoid the dangers associated with processed meat.
Processed meat may also increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a recent review of 15 studies published in the International Journal of Cancer. The study found that regular consumption of processed meat is linked to a nine percent higher breast cancer risk. As with the WCRF, eating plants was found to decrease risk; a study conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a plant-forward diet can lower breast cancer risk by up to 11 percent.
Several organizations are pushing legislators and schools to adopt vegan-friendly school meals. Environmental charity Friends of the Earth is urging schools to serve plant-based school dinners for the good of student health and the health of the planet. Last June, ProVeg UK launched its School Plates programme, an initiative that works with local councils and schools to introduce five small menu changes, one of which is to remove red processed meat from the menu. Some have already committed to serving 3.1 million meat-free meals over the next year.
In the US, California’s Santa Barbara Unified School District succeeded in banning all processed meats from school menus, citing its carcinogenic risk as the primary motivator. In New York City, vegan Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, along with other legislators, are pushing for a similar ban on the grounds of protecting student health.
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