A Vegetarian Elementary School

A public school in NYC went completely vegetarian in an effort to curb childhood obesity. Should Boston be next?

That's one way to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Give them no other choice. Fruit stand photo via Shutterstock.

That’s one way to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Give them no other choice. Fruit stand photo via Shutterstock.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010.

That is an astounding number, and in a few years, it will translate into a lot of overweight adults. The American Medical Association just named obesity a disease. Some doctors think it is a necessary call to action, while others are dismissing the findings. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, obesity is in the news daily and will continue to be, especially if we keep getting bigger.

Put it this way: even Facebook knows if you’re overweight. We seem to be in a neverending cycle that won’t be fixed unless we do something about this epidemic. And one NYC public school decided it was time for them to take action.

Writing for Everyday Health, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports that P.S. 244 in Queens, a kindergarden through third grade public school, is serving the students vegetarian meals — only vegetarian meals. It’s the first in NYC and only one of a handful in the nation. And it seems to be working.

P.S. 244 principal tells Everyday Health:

“We founded the school [in 2008] on a vision of health and nutrition,” said Robert Groff, principal of P.S. 244, a pre-kindergarten to third grade school in Flushing, Queens, with 400 students. “This is us trying to work toward decreasing childhood obesity and childhood diabetes.”

P.S. 244’s shift to a strictly vegetarian menu in January was a gradual one, in partnership with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food and the NYC Office of SchoolFood. All menu items had to be approved through the Office of SchoolFood and meet strict guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Over the course of the last five years, it came to be that the healthiest food options were vegetarian ones,” according to Groff.

For those people concerned about kids getting their protein (a common misconception), Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, tells Everyday Health, “there is no concern about the [amount of] protein” in the school’s meals. She references an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics statement when talking to Everyday Health that well-planned vegetarian diets are “healthful [and] nutritionally adequate.”

According to the report, some examples of the rotating menu (that actually don’t seem that healthy, but when made appropriately can be) include black bean quesadillas, chili and steamed brown rice in a wheat wrap, cheesy baked rotini, pizza bagels, and there’s also regular salad bar.

Has the experiment worked? P.S. 244 has been tracking students’ body mass indexes (BMI), and Groff says that so far the results have been promising. “We’ve seen a significant difference over the course of a year in our average body mass index,” she says in the report.

Another positive outcome is teaching students about healthy eating early on in life. Hopefully they will carry those lessons into adulthood. And don’t worry carnivore parents— you can send your child to school with all the meat you want. Meat has not been banned from the premises, they just don’t serve it at lunch.

What do you think? Should Boston follow its lead?