Could Meatless Monday help to curb childhood obesity in our nation's elementary and high schools? National obesity rates continue to surge despite cognizance about the importance of an active lifestyle and healthy eating: Perhaps a weekly plant-based meal and food education could be the answer.

Gnocchi, nutty noodles, minestrone soap, rockin' Moroccan stew, yakisoba noodles with stir fried tofu, beans & greens with rice, two-bean taco pizza and veggie medley polenta lasagna are just some examples of the dishes prepared in many schools across the country plated instead of chicken nuggets, hamburgers or pork hot dogs.

Long ago, research established a link between meat consumption and its association with obesityThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers that obese children tend to grow up to be obese adults. Already at risk of pre-diabetes, as obese children mature they face greater risk of sleep apnea, social and psychological problems, bone and joint problems and adult health problems, such as osteoarthritis, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and numerous types of cancer (ex. colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary and cervix).

The World Health Organization issued a statement on Oct. 29 that confirmed a linked between processed meat and colorectal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also published a report, echoing WHO's longstanding recommendation to consume moderate amounts of preserved meat to lessen the threat of cancer. Meatless Monday, the global movement, was launched 2003 as a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns. In collaboration with the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Monday Campaigns was able to inspire countless individuals across 36 nations to commit to eating wholesome meat-free meals.

The Humane Society took a cue from the Monday Campaign, introducing healthy meat alternatives to schools throughout the country. The Humane Society of the United States has challenged schools around the nation to embrace Meatless Mondays as a way to curb childhood obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

"We're doing work in South Texas with populations that are probably closer to 95 percent higher of Hispanic children," Eddie Garza, food policy manager at The Humane Society of the United States, told Latin Post.

"Some of the schools call it 'Meatless Monday' and some people call it 'Eat Green Day' as a way to get the kids excited about eating more fruits and vegetables. We've also done work in Florida. We've campaigned in Massachusetts ... all around the country. I primarily work on helping to develop menus that are kid-approved and also menus that meet the child protection standards that are set by the FDA. That's a lot of the work that we do."

Garza and his colleagues develop recipes, work with nutritional staff, improve dining services, develop health initiatives, work with wellness teams and do everything possible to make plant-based foods seem attractive and exciting. Custom marketing material, culinary training for staff are among the tools offered to help limit the growth of childhood obesity. The Humane Society even solicited the help of actress Daniella Monet ("Victorious" "Zoey 101" and "Nancy Drew") to promote the value of a plant-based diet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published findings in that revealed the prevalence of obesity is 36 percent in adults and 17 percent in youth. The prevalence of obesity among youth aged 2-19 is highest for Hispanic populations, according to the report. The prevalence of obesity prevalence was 8.6 percent for non-Hispanic Asian youth, 14.7 percent for non-Hispanic white, 19.5 percent for non-Hispanic white youth and 21.9 percent of Hispanic youth. However, the report did suggest that childhood obesity was stable, and dipping among preschool-aged children in some states. Trends in obesity prevalence increased among youth and adults in the U.S. from 1999-2000 through 2013-2014, then plateaued.

Eating more plant-based foods isn't necessarily the answer but can be a first step to making healthier, thoughtful choices about food. Exchanging hamburger patties for black bean patties, or eating spaghetti and mushrooms instead of spaghetti and meatballs, and working more grains and greens into your diet can make a great deal of difference. That singular choice means more nutrients, fewer calories and increased energy. There are countless options for meat-free soups, salads, pastas, sides, entrees and sandwiches, which are fulfilling and nutritious.