Cancer and School Lunch

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.55.52 AM.png

We know that the high sugar content of school food contributes to the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics.  But could it also be increasing a child's cancer risk?  Scientific leaders in cancer research make a strong case for YES.  

The connection looks like this….

Excessive sugar consumption = Increasing obesity rates

 Increasing obesity rates = Increasing cancer rates

so by the transitive property excessive sugar consumption = increasing cancer rates.

 There is strong new evidence linking obesity to an increased risk of 13 different cancers.              ( )  There is also no debate on the leading cause of obesity, excessive sugar consumption.  

The next logical question is how much sugar do our kids consume through the school lunch and breakfast program?  Here are some numbers from a public elementary school near me….


Figure 2





The answer as demonstrated in Figure 1 and Figure 2 is a child in elementary school can consume about 30 teaspoons of sugar if they eat breakfast and lunch at school.  Figure 3 shows the recent American Heart Association recommendation that children consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  Therefore, by eating breakfast and lunch at school, a child can consume 5 times the recommended amount of sugar each day.

Figure 3

To magnify the enormity of the sugar exposure at school I have included an article from the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrates the effect of JUST 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day on a child.   These effects were measured in a double blinded, randomized placebo controlled study that demonstrated statistically significant effects on weight gain, skinfold-thickness measurements, waist-to-height ratio, and fat mass.  Here is the link to this invaluable study…

Remember that the effects seen in this study were from 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, while kids consume about 30 teaspoons of sugar per day by eating breakfast and lunch at our public schools (5 times the amount in this study).  

The logic connecting school lunch to cancer risk follows quite nicely from the above elucidation.  By eating breakfast and lunch at school your child can consume 30 teaspoons of added sugar, 5 times the recommended amount of sugar by the American Heart Association and 5 times the amount of sugar that showed statistically significant effect on weight gain, skin fold-thickness measurements, waist-to-height ratio, and fat mass in the NEJM study on children. 

If you still think connecting the high sugar content of our school food to cancer seems far-fetched then perhaps these cancer experts can sway you...

Lewis Cantley, Director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, put it this way:  "Sugar scares me."

Craig Thompson, the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says,  "I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can, because I believe ultimately it's something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer."


The above quotes are borrowed from the NY Times Magazine Article from 4/13/2011, Is Sugar Toxic, written by Gary Taubes ( ).  


The Failure of Michelle Obama's LETS MOVE Campaign

Michelle Obama is an incredible person.  Michelle Obama has been an outstanding First Lady of the United States.  The Lets Move campaign has been an outstanding movement for promoting exercise to our youth.  The Lets Move campaign has done a nice job promoting gardens and the consumption of vegetables.

However, if we judge the Lets Move campaign on its stated mission to "solve the problem of obesity within a generation" then the campaign has been a tremendous failure.  This failure is no surprise to the scientists and doctors who work in the field of childhood obesity.   The science based key to reversing the obesity epidemic lies in decreasing exposure to added sugars.  If you tell a child to exercise more BEFORE you get them off sugary drinks then they actually gain more weight.  The science is simple….A 30 minute soccer practice is NOT enough exercise to burn off the gatorade the child brings to "rehydrate" with.   Every week I see children in my office who are frustrated that their efforts to exercise have failed to solve their weight problem.  These children and families feel hopeless.  They have followed the instructions of our national leadership and continue to gain more weight.  The first thing we do is to explain the TRUTH about beating childhood obesity…. LETS NOT DRINK SUGAR.  We challenge the children to battle SODATRON, the evil SODA monster, who is ravaging our communities.  They must NOT drink the poison of the enemy for one month ( no sugary drinks for one month) and then they return to our office.   Inevitably, upon return, their weight has plateaued or even decreased. More important then the successful weight loss is that THESE CHILDREN FEEL EMPOWERED, their sense of hopelessness has disappeared.  

WE MUST ACT NOW TO CHANGE THE NATIONAL STRATEGY as obesity rates have hit an all-time high this year.  The public health consequences of our flawed national strategy are catastrophic. 



For those who want to read more on the science of reversing the obesity epidemic, we recommend this article by Dr. Aseem Malhotra.

For those who want to learn more about the science of sugar we recommend this video lecture from Dr. Robert Lustig. 

In 2012 our campaign attempted to warn Michelle Obama and the Lets Move campaign of the imminent failure of their strategy with this blogpost. 



America Needs a Sugar Tax Yesterday

Thanks to the efforts of vocal public health advocates, Jamie Oliver and Dr. Aseem Malhotra, Britain passed a sugar tax this week.  This tax on sugary drinks will raise an estimated 730 million dollars a year to be used for funding sports and breakfast programs in the schools.  

Mexico passéd a tax on sugary drinks and has seen consumption rates drop by 12% in one year.  Simultaneously, Mexico has ramped up a program to ensure kids have safe drinking water in their schools.

America urgently needs a sugar tax of our own.   The obesity rate in the US hit an all time high this year of 30%.  Also, this year, it was announced that 90 million Americans have pre diabetes. The science is clear.  Drinking one sugary drink per day increases your risk of obesity by 60%.

 Drinking 1 to 2 sugary drinks per day increases your risk of type 2 diabetes by 25%.

 Current projections suggest that half of all Latino and Black children in the US will end up with type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.  Data from Mexico clearly show a tax will decrease consumption.  WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?   

The sugar tax revenue could be used to:

1)  Ensure all families and schools have safe drinking water for their children.  

2) Eliminate junk food from our school food program (Fruit Loops, Chocolate milk, Chicken Nuggets, Cocoa Puffs) and replace it with real food so our most vulnerable children have the nutrients they need to thrive.

3) Promote a more sustainable food system by teaching families and communities to grow their own food.   (see The Ron Finley Project)

4)  Subsidize the purchase of real food through the SNAP program and phase out the purchase of sugary junk food.  

From a public health standpoint a sugar tax is a NO BRAINER.  

For the anti tax people out there….please think about the looming cost of 90 million pre diabetics. We are looking at catastrophic healthcare costs from the exorbitant complications that diabetics suffer from including heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, infections, impotence, and amputation.

In conclusion, WE OWE IT TO OUR CHILDREN to provide clean drinking water, real food, and a childhood that guides youth away from the path to chronic disease.



4th Annual DunkTheJunk Superbowl Hashtag Hijack

4th Annual DunkTheJunk Superbowl Hashtag Hijack

WHEN:   Superbowl Sunday, Feb 7th, ALL DAY… and especially during the game.

WHAT:   Tweet the TRUTH about SODA to the #PepsiHalftime hashtag.

WHO:   Anyone interested in disseminating the TRUTH about SODA.

WHY:   SODA is the new TOBACCO.

Please join our twitter posse to inundate the #PepsiHalftime hashtag with the TRUTH about SODA.

Thank you,

Dr. Kevin Strong & the Dunk the Junk crew. 

Video below has audio of NFL superstar Tom Brady calling SODA "poison for kids."   

Sugar Addicted Newborns: the silent epidemic.

Dear fellow doctors and caregivers, 

It is time to OUT the silent epidemic of SUGAR ADDICTED NEWBORNS.  We owe it to the babies and to the mothers.


When a mother consumes high levels of sugar during her pregnancy or has diabetes with difficulty controlling her sugar levels; the baby will receive high levels of sugar through the placenta.  In response to these high sugar levels the baby produces more insulin.  Insulin is an anabolic (pro growth) hormone so the baby will often grow larger than normal.   When it comes time to deliver these large babies vaginally there is increased risk of complications including increased rates of C sections, shoulder dystocia, brachial nerve injury, and resuscitation.  Once the baby is delivered the high sugar source (mom) has been removed while the baby continues to make higher than normal insulin levels.  The high insulin levels drive the baby's sugar low creating hypoglycemia.  Risks of neonatal hypoglycemia include lethargy, tachycardia, poor feeding, seizures, and even coma. 

Recently, on my newborn rounds, 5 out of 6 babies were being closely watched for hypoglycemia with some needing urgent and high level infusions of glucose to rescue them.  Some babies require urgent transport to ICU settings because their sugar is so difficult to control.  

Are we as physicians and caregivers counseling expectant mom's on these risks?  My informal poll of colleagues found that this is NOT being discussed despite the epidemic proportions of babies affected.  

Sugar addiction, like opiate, tobacco, and alcohol addiction, has detrimental affects on the unborn baby.  The time has come to speak up, educate, and protect our mothers and babies against excessive exposure to SUGAR.  


Kevin Strong, MD   Community Pediatrician and Founder of Dunk the Junk