November 17 2012

Let’s Put Government—Not Schoolchildren—on a Diet

Vicki E. Alger

 

As my colleague Julie Gunlock has written, government meddling in school lunches is making kids hungrier—not healthier. It’s also making them crankier.

Students are sick of being on Momma Obama’s diet plan—also known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which costs a typical family nearly $350 extra each year. As the Huffington Post reports:

The new federal requirements stateside, the first major nutritional school meal overhaul in over 15 years, offer less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains and a broader selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The rules also place a calorie cap on lunches: 650 calories for elementary school lunches, 700 for middle schools and 850 for high schools.

That's where students across the country are waging war against the first lady. Teens from Kansas to Wisconsin have staged protests against the new school lunches, launching Twitter campaigns, boycotting cafeteria meals and filming videos in hopes of bringing widespread attention to their cause: the new rules are too restrictive, leaving kids hungry.

Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) have introduced a plan called The No Hungry Kids Act to repeal some of the unsavory aspects of the HHFK bill. As the Huffington Post reported elsewhere, Rep. King believes:

"The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama's 'Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,' was interpreted…to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want." Huelskamp, the bill’s co-sponsor, said the new guidelines are a “perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals.”…

Just under 32 million schoolchildren participate in the $11 billion school lunch program (see p. 3 here). But those ranks are about to swell, as the Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullmann writes in the Washington Times:

Taxpayers pay national school lunch costs entirely or mostly for 39 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren, and partially for all the rest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers bonuses to states that increase their free-lunch rolls and in 2014, it will make every state offer a federal program requiring all students at participating schools to eat taxpayer-funded breakfasts, lunches and snacks at no direct cost to any student, regardless of their ability to bring or pay for food.

Food welfare constitutes approximately 65 percent of the USDA’s budget. National school lunch is one of many federal entitlements, and like the others, it has ballooned dangerously in recent years despite HHFK supporters’ promises the law would make school lunch “sustainable.” Since 2006, enrollment has increased 172 percent.

Nobody wants children to go hungry. But that doesn’t mean the only solution is more government—and all the vested interests that entails. Recall, the same HHFK Act purporting to care about “the children” is the plan that deemed pizza sauce a vegetable, thanks to intense lobbying from special interest groups.

Parents—not politicians and their special interest friends—are the best advocates for their children. Government and the related special interest meddling has turned a well-intentioned goal into yet another fraud-laden program that actually contributes to child obesity.

The proper reaction to such government interference should be elementary, as Pullmann explains:

It took federal overreach to make children consider homemade lunches cool, unintentionally promoting some individual responsibility our culture desperately needs. Congress should listen to its customers and return control over school lunch to those who provide it and eat it.

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