‘It is not in their DNA, it’s in their dinner’: BP Wants Healthier Food at Public Schools

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Borough President Eric Adams at a weekend march for healthy food at public schools (Image via Sam Raskin/ Bklyner)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN—Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is on a crusade to ensure that children eat more healthily.

On Sunday, Adams joined others to call attention to the latest in a series of proposals aimed at furthering that goal. The local politicians and advocates want cooked-from-scratch meals and kitchen gardens in every public school lunchroom, as well as nutrition classes and more time— a full hour— during the school day for students to eat and have recess.  

In a letter, sent Monday morning to School Chancellor Richard Carranza, the coalition demanded that those measures be implemented.  

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“We cannot continue to serve our kids highly processed foods like fried fish, fried cheese and Tostitos taco bowls (all on the lunch menu) alongside chocolate milk sweetened with 20 grams of sugar per 8 ounce container,” the letter reads.

It goes on to ask Carranza to hire a new head of school food, and improve the nutritional value of food at public schools “so that all NYC children are given the opportunity to live their best lives, not just those who can afford to bring lunch from home, or are lucky enough to live in a rich zip code and attend a public school with a school garden and robust nutrition education programming.”

At the Sunday demonstration, Adams, along with Council Member Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn, and advocates as well as their children, walked from Cadman Plaza across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, where they held a press conference to outline their asks.

The rally comes after the borough president, a vegan who lost more than 35 pounds and reversed his type two diabetes, last month called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to ban fast-food advertisements from city property. But the borough president says advertisements are not the only places children learn unhealthy eating habits. According to Adams, United States youths’ health problems start during kids’ early years and in lunchrooms. (One in five kindergarteners in the city are obese, he noted, and children 70 percent of children have signs of heart disease by the time they’re 12 years old).   

“The obesity is connected to their food. It is not in their DNA, it’s in their dinner, it’s in their lunch, it’s in their breakfast,” the borough president and likely mayoral candidate said. “And until we deal with those issues, we’re going to our children are going to have this crisis. We are feeding the health-care crisis.”

“You’re not unhealthy because you’re an American,” he went on, “You’re unhealthy because you have an American diet that’s filled with fat, sugar and salt.”

Andrea Strong, founder and director of NYC Healthy School Food Alliance, spoke about the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and early signs of heart disease in children and in turn their costs on the health-care system. And since the city feeds approximately 900,000 students per day, it’s crucial that schools take it upon themselves to serve healthier foods, she argued.    

“There is a legal responsibility if not a moral responsibility to ensure that the food that they’re feeding our children is not feeding the health crisis, and yet that is exactly what New York City is doing,” she said. “Every day, in lunchrooms across the city, you will find fast food.”

“When you introduce highly processed foods at a young age, we’re setting children up for a lifelong struggle with disease,” Strong added.

Espinal, who represents parts of Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills and Brownsville—a district, according to the Council member, that has some of the highest rates of obesity in the city. He said that during de Blasio’s tenure “there has been very slow progress” on getting healthier foods served in public school lunchrooms, saying “Meatless Mondays” is a small step in the right direction.

“I think there are deeper, fundamental issues that we have to be focusing on,” he told Bklyner. “It’s no secret that better nutrition means better education.”

“[Using] the schools to expose children to healthy foods, so they can bring that home, I think, would have a long-term impact in terms of creating healthier adults and a healthier society,” he said.

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