On February 3, 2023, the Biden administration’s USDA (US Department of Agriculture) issued new nutrition guidance for our nation’s school lunch programs — less sugar!
Why? To cut childhood obesity, a huge challenge in our nation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about a fifth of US children are considered obese. OMG.
As I read about this latest development, undoubtedly welcome, I can’t help but think back to my own childhood, growing up on a chicken farm, and wondering about what is happening to trust in our nation’s health policies.
Here’s my sugar, carbs, and eggs (proteins) story.
From fourth grade until I went to college, I grew up on a chicken farm in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called the Ideal Poultry Farm. I wonder if anyone reading this blog remembers that farm, which was on the edge of town on Bonnell Street. My mother had remarried, and that is what George was doing. Flemington was a wonderful place to grow up.
But, the chicken farm business in the 1950’s and 60’s was hard. Despite my parents’ best efforts — and they worked super hard on that farm — it continued to lose money. Many other small chicken farms in New Jersey found themselves in the same dire situation.
What was happening? Besides what these farmers could actually do on their small farms, larger forces were at work. What killed chicken farming in New Jersey? Probably many causes, but let’s see what some of them might have been.
Was it overproduction of eggs in the all-inclusive “chicken factories” of the Midwest? Or the rise in real estate prices in New Jersey? Or farmers’ children heading to college and away from farm life? Or the cholesterol scare that had been building for years and reached new heights in the 1960s? I’ll focus on the last of these possibilities — the cholesterol scare of the 1960s and 70s.
In 1968, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended that, given the level of cholesterol in eggs, people consume no more than three eggs a week to reduce cardiovascular disease. Later, the USDA, joined by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), created their own policy which emphasized, besides, the basic food groups to eat, the foods to avoid (or eat in moderation). Sadly, these latter included eggs.
By the 1990s, the USDA and DHHS created the now-infamous Food Pyramid — favoring carbohydrates and sugars (good for Kellogg’s and Post!), and disfavoring eggs, butter, meats, and even veggies — bad for us. This thunderbolt incinerated many small family farms. As government warnings about cholesterol rose, demand for eggs dropped. I remember the long faces in the streets of Flemington that marked the steep decline in the price of eggs.
Much has been written about these damaging, misguided policies, including a book I really enjoyed — a page-turner about the bad “science” underlying the above USDA and DHHS policies — The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese belong in a Healthy Diet.
Fast forward some 50+ years. We now know that our government’s guidance was based on very shaky “science” — at best. Eating fewer eggs or less butter did not lead to less cardiovascular disease; instead, the guidance, which elevated carbohydrates — including lots of sugar — contributed to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes that we still live with. In 1997, the World Health Organization formally recognized obesity as a global epidemic, as obesity had tripled since 1975. It’s still multiplying.
Eventually our US government reversed its guidance — eggs, butter, meats — fats — and fresh fruits and vegetables are now good for you, while sugars and carbs are not — but it was far too late to save many family egg farmers, like my parents, in New Jersey.
Let’s hope it’s not too late for millions of our children who eat lunch at school.
For me, this sad tale again raises the question: Whither trust? And specifically, whither trust in government policies? Which government policies are truly based on good science and therefore, trustworthy? And whither common sense? Why did it take so long to notice that sugars and carbs are bad for us, especially for our children, letting the obesity epidemic grow out of control? How much did this bad science, adopted by our government, contribute to today’s obesity and diabetes epidemics? To me, it all seems so intertwined. And to you?
Again, we are left to ask: Whither trust, common sense, and wisdom in government policies in health (here) and also in education when we need them more than ever? More on education to come –my area of expertise and passion — in future posts.
My three books may be of interest to you. They are
Special Education 2.0 — Breaking Taboos to Build a New Education Law Available on Amazon
Grading, Reporting, Graduating…and the Law
IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings… and the Law
Available on Amazon and at Corwin.com
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA, is an education reformer, thought leader, lawyer, author — and sometimes “found objects” artist. Check out her books and her medicine bottle art!
This was originally posted on Medium
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