January 1 2011

IWF in the News: ObamaFood: Fattening Government to Fight Obesity

Julie Gunlock

The child nutrition bill signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 13 has been touted as essential to combating the "epidemic" of childhood obesity.

It is also a welfare expansion, adding $4.5 billion to the cost of school lunches.

Despite the additional six cents per meal which will be paid to the schools, critics say it amounts to an unfunded mandate which could bankrupt schools.

Speaking to Pajamas Media on condition of anonymity, one head of food service for a Kansas school district said the law's reimbursement already falls short of the actual cost of putting food on the table - forcing food service to draw annually from the district general fund at a time when most districts in Kansas have taken budget cuts of 10 percent or more. Just over the past year and a half, Kansas districts have lost a grand total of $303 million. Plus, federal law prohibits food service programs from going into the red, so school districts have no choice but to pay. And food and energy costs are rising.

"It's the government starting to micromanage," said the food service head. "It's going to cost more money and take more staff, and districts don't get enough as it is."

According to a Dec. 15 piece by Julie Gunlock at National Review, the 200-page bill is full of typical goverment expansion:

The 200-plus page bill is standard Washington meddling with that familiar feel of government overreach. It's full of new regulations and nutrition standards, expands USDA authority over local school districts, levies fines for noncompliance, and funds training, technical support, and a "food service management institute." It also requires a slew of sure-to-be-ignored reports, studies, and research. The bill also expands participation in these programs by automatically enrolling children using state Medicaid records and federal census data.

While schools are reflexively blamed for childhood obesity, in Kansas, to take one example, students are already fed healthy meals.

"We don't fry anything," the source said. "We already use fresh fruits and whole grains. It's not going to solve the problem."

The source noted that a more rational approach would be to insist on more hours of physical activity once children are out of grade school. (In most districts in Kansas, for instance, only two semesters of physical education are required once a student is in high school. Most take care of that requirement in their freshman or sophomore year.)

Additionally, said the source, school food service can do nothing about what students eat when they are not at school - with parents often purchasing fast food because it can end up being cheaper to eat at McDonald's than to buy fresh food.

Granting that childhood obesity is a problem, the ins and outs are beside the point: what America confronts is a parental problem, not a school problem.

Mixed messages from the law's star supporters add to the trouble. One of the stated justifications for the bill is that hunger is a problem in the United States. First Lady Michelle Obama said this bill would "save lives."
As Gunlock notes:

The U.S. actually has very low levels of hunger. According to the USDA, only 14 percent of U.S. households have experienced "food insecurity" - which only means intermittent problems putting food on the table, not chronic starvation.

So the first lady has contradicted herself. Are we to fight a war on fat or starvation? In the end, this law, like so many championed by the left, is precisely what the Kansas nutritionist said it to be: micromanagement.

It expands the USDA's authority and allows the federal government to use Medicaid records to directly enroll thousands of children in free or reduced lunch programs without having to fill out the paperwork. At a stroke, responsibility is once again taken away from parents, and authority over our personal lives is once again handed to the federal government.

More legislation is not the answer. As the source notes well, the way to combat childhood obesity is not to regulate but to educate, with parents educating themselves and their children about what good nutrition means - and then taking responsibility to make sure their kids are eating properly, instead of fobbing that responsibility off on the schools, the unions, and Washington bureaucrats.

Patrick Richardson is a 12 year veteran of the community newspaper business. He is that rare bird, the conservative journalist. Living his whole life in Kansas, he has come to appreciate the conservative values of hard work, honesty and honor. Patrick blogs at View from Flyover Country .

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