- - Friday, July 26, 2013


Michelle Obama’s heart is in the right place in trying to reduce childhood obesity, but unfortunately the stomachs of American kids are usually in the wrong place. Her recipe for reducing waistlines leaves children hungry, wasted food measured in tons and school administrators with a bad taste in their mouths.

Congress enacted “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” in 2010 to add muscle to the first lady’s call to action, pushing local districts to change school lunch menus to make them healthier with items that kids usually don’t like. The Department of Agriculture imposed calorie caps on the food served in the cafeterias that get federal help, which means just about all of them. Children from kindergarten through fifth grade get 650 calories for lunch, middle schoolers get 700 calories and high schoolers are allowed 850 calories. The program costs an extra $3.2 billion annually.

A bureaucrat came up with a formula that he liked and decided it would fit everyone’s needs, ignoring the inconvenient fact that boys and girls come in different sizes and like different things. Any mom could have told the bureaucrats that. Some kids are lazy, and some are not. Some like books, and others like to play rambunctious games. Some need more calories than others. Too much food on a plate for one kid is hardly enough for another.

The Agriculture Department has received more than 133,000 comments about what it’s doing, and a lot of the comments are angry. One mom complained that her son came home feeling ill. “Every day he was crying about how hungry he was,” she wrote. Christel Prins, a high school student, says, “Our football players already go around the cafeteria begging for leftover food from others.”

The complaints are about more than quantity. Some schools have instituted a “sweet-free” zone, which turns the occasional Snickers bar or Twinkie into forbidden fruit. “When foods are overly controlled and restricted, the result is keen interest, desire and sneaking,” says Katja Rowell, a professional specializing in the new nutrition rules.

When kids get food that’s good for them, but won’t eat it, the trash bin overflows with what the government orders. In Indiana, Lori Shofroth, the food-service director of Tippecanoe School Corp., estimates that over a year’s time, $300,000 worth of food winds up in garbage cans. “We did a waste study on three different schools,” she tells the Indianapolis Star, “and there was a huge amount of waste. That was just with produce, fruit or vegetables or milk.”

Some politicians think the way to get children healthy is a law and a regulation ordering them to “eat healthy.” If grown-ups don’t like the cuisine, they can go somewhere else. The kids can’t, so they vote with broccoli abstinence. The government won’t measure the effectiveness of what it’s doing and adapt to unique local circumstances, and the politician’s interest wanes as soon as the last reporter leaves the news conference.

Childhood obesity is a serious problem, but ordering politically correct food onto the menu won’t solve it. Getting kids off the couch and on their bikes, Rollerblades and skateboards will do more to solve the problem than spending $3 billion on a mountain of celery sticks.

The Washington Times

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