- - Thursday, April 10, 2014

The White House Easter Egg Roll isn’t just about fun. It’s also about the re-education of America, courtesy of our self-proclaimed Mom-in-Chief.

“We can’t just leave it up to the parents,” is how first lady Michelle Obama has summarized her philosophy. She said that when her husband signed the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the source of her continuing assertion of authority to watch over our children.

That includes a re-purposing of this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll, a huge, 30,000-person event.

As officially announced, “This year’s theme is ‘Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape.’ … In addition to all of the fun, the day’s activities will encourage children to lead healthy, active lives in support of the first lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative.” Last year she proclaimed the event’s purpose was is “to celebrate nutrition and activity” and “learn about making tasty, healthy food.”

Sorry, Peter Cottontail. Your event has been kidnapped. And, of course, apologies to the churches.

Certainly, the first lady is well-intentioned. But that doesn’t make all her efforts right nor remove the unintended consequences, such as disrupting America’s school lunchrooms and angering many students.

The 2010 law was one of the very last acts of Congress while Democrat Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House. The law’s parents-don’t-know-best philosophy is why many school children are in rebellion against the federal school lunch program.

After all, teens are always rebelling about something.

Their pushback against downsized lunches, restrictive calorie counts and limited choices has resulted in over a million dropouts. Fortunately, those 1.2-million students only dropped out of buying lunch at school, rather than dropping out of school entirely.

The numbers are from the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report released six weeks ago. Since then, even more school districts have exited the federal program because large student dropouts made the costs unworkable. That meant an end to federal subsidies even for low-income students in those schools.

For example, Waterford, Wisconsin, schools quit the program in March. As the local paper wrote, “School officials said new federal requirements that food sold in schools must be healthier are going to result in too much waste and lost school revenue. Instead of spending thousands on food they know is going to be literally thrown in the garbage, the school is opting out of the program.”

Waterford is quitting because this year federal “guidelines” are transitioning to “mandates” that will spread beyond the school lunchroom and into vending machines and other on-campus food items. They include new edicts on sodium, requiring whole-grain items, and more.

Monticello, Illinois, also decided in March to exit the program and now expects to save $60,000 rather than continuing to lose money. Their contracted food-services director said the new menu “a good plan, but at the end of the day kids aren’t eating it. I know the food is better for the kids — I get it — but the taste is going out the door.”

Everyone who has seen or read “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent” should know not to mess with young people when they make up their minds. They are determined not to be bossed around by Uncle Sam or the first lady any more than by their parents. The GAO reports they simply throw away major amounts of food they don’t like. (The report is silent whether the kids first throw the food at one another.)

Limits on protein, carbohydrates, and fats are also limits on taste, and lots of fruits and vegetables don’t satisfy the students. That’s why many recently took to Twitter to protest against the first lady, showing pictures of unsatisfying meals with comments like, “Our prisoners eat better than our kids in school.”

But students are voting with their feet not with their tweet. By not buying school lunches, the 1.2-million dropouts have forced many schools to act in financial self-preservation by leaving the program. That’s not an option, however, for schools with a high ratio of students who receive federal lunch subsidies.

Students who can go off-campus to eat are doing so. Others skip lunch and binge afterwards, often at fast-food outlets. That doesn’t reduce obesity! We may see a rise in sales of brown bags or a comeback of lunch boxes. There’s also a sinister counter-trend of self-appointed food police who have confiscated lunches-from-home that they deem unhealthy. That’s the bureaucracy trying to strike back.

Every announcement about the federal program claims success, however, and comes not from normal bureaucrats but direct from Mrs. Obama and the White House. A few weeks ago Michelle Obama bragged that 90 percent of schools are implementing new standards — but didn’t mention whether that number was rising or declining.

She also proclaimed the next step, a ban on advertising “junk foods” on school property. Plus rules starting this fall will require other foods around school to be healthier as well, including those in vending machines and separate “a la carte” lines in the lunch room. Calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium limits will be dictated for almost every food and beverage sold during the school day. Concessions sold at after-school sports games would be exempt — at least for now.

New advertising restrictions could cost schools about $150- million they receive from sodas that currently place ads on scoreboards in gyms, stadiums and other locations.

Still up in the air are what schools can do with fund-raisers and promotions that involve “unhealthy” foods. What if the prize in a reading contest is pizza? Or ice cream? What if the band or choir or drama club earns money by selling chocolate or sausage? The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the school lunch program, is asking for comment on these things.

Of course, schools which opt-out of the school lunch program also get to opt-out of those federal controls. But to induce schools to stay, the White House is seeking to expand the add-ons of breakfast and after-school food. That’s doubling-down by dangling more federal dollars in front of the local schools.

Childhood obesity remains a problem. Parents need to address it. Local schools should properly engage. But federal controls clearly bring a whole new set of problems.

This food fight is far from over. The only clear thing is that Hillary Clinton understated the challenge. It takes more than a village to raise a child. This first lady believes it takes a federal bureaucracy.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook hosts a daily talk radio show that can be heard at www.kzlsam.com Sign up for his free newsletter at https://eepurl.com/JPojD


• Ernest Istook can be reached at ejistook@gmail.com.

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