The Back Story Behind the “Pizza as a Vegetable” Outrage

Unless you spent the week living under a rock (or watching a Kardashian marathon on the E! channel) you probably heard about the uproar this week over Congress classifying pizza as a vegetable. Jon Stewart brought it up on the Daily Show, and even my alma mater, Heard on the Hill, covered the story.

But the pizza thing is a bit more complicated than what you might have read or seen pop up in your Twitter feed. Here’s a summary how it all went down.

On Monday, Congress blocked changes to the proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meant to add more healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains to school meals. The proposal would have limited the use of potatoes, curbed sodium use and added more healthy products to school meals.

But various food companies lobbied Congress about the proposed changes, calling them too restrictive. Other critics said the changes would be too costly and tough for schools to implement (the USDA estimated the changes would cost $6.8 billion over five years, or 14 cents a more a meal).

In the end, Congress moved to block funding for the changes in the agriculture spending bill, effectively killing the USDA’s school meal proposal.

So how exactly did the attention over pizza enter the fray? The USDA proposal would have allowed schools to count tomato paste on a slice of pizza as a vegetable only if more than a quarter-cup of it was used. Right now, the standard is two tablespoons, which is half of that.

Meanwhile, the fight over school meals continues. “While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children,” the USDA said in a statement.

In Other News…

Lobbyists Fighting Hard to Defeat Food Marketing Principles

Reuters reports that lobbyists for the food and beverage industry are aiming to kill the proposal by the federal government that would establish voluntary principles for companies to follow when marketing to children. The Federal Trade Commission already has signaled it would drop its plan for the principles to apply to ads aimed at kids 17 and under, instead lowering the age to 11. But lobbyists are working to ensure the entire proposal never is implemented, Reuters writes.

For First Time in 40 Years, U.S. Losing Battle Against Cardiovascular Disease

Rising rates of obesity among children and teens is putting them at such big risk for cardiovascular disease as adults that a new study finds the U.S. is losing its effort to combat the condition. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that there is an increasing cardiovascular mortality rate in 35 to 44-year-olds, a statistic that had been decreasing for decades. Researchers say people’s poor diet choices and lack of physical activity in their youth is contributing to the problem.

Oklahoma City Gets Walking

Some of you might remember our profile of Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City who put his town on a diet back in 2007. Since then, nearly a million pounds have been shed, and Cornett continues to work to combat obesity. Now The Atlantic reports he’s aiming to make the city more walkable in an effort to get residents out of their cars and moving.

More Farmer’s Markets for Los Angeles

The L.A. City Council this week called for a new law that would allow farmer’s markets to operate in residential neighborhoods, the Daily News reports. The effort is aimed at bringing more produce and other healthy items into low-income areas known as “food deserts,” which lack access to fresh and affordable goods.

Microsoft and the NFL Team Up to Promote Activity

Software giant Microsoft and the National Football League’s Play 60 program announced this week that they will partner in an effort to promote activity among young people, the Seattle Times reported. Kinect for Xbox 360 requires players to move their body to control the game. The console will be the official sponsor of the NFL and NFL Play 60.

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