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Should the government mandate healthy eating?

POSTED: June 27, 2014 4:00 p.m.
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If we want to have healthy children, we need to regulate school lunches, according to a recent op-ed by Michelle Obama in the New York Times. Others have responded to the article by saying that regulating what students eat is overstepping government boundaries, leading to a debate on the merits of healthy foods versus the ability to choose your foods.

“Today, we are seeing glimmers of progress,” the first lady wrote. “Tens of millions of kids are getting better nutrition in school; families are thinking more carefully about food they eat, cook and buy; companies are rushing to create healthier products to meet the growing demand; and the obesity rate is finally beginning to fall from its peak among our youngest children.”

But, she continued, Congress is now on the verge of undoing all the good that’s been done by “threatening to roll back these new standards and lower the quality of food our kids get in school. They (members of Congress) want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids.

“Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches?” she continued. “You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense.”
She went on to argue that if Congress changes school lunch policies, it will be hurting our economy as well — the higher the American obesity rate gets, the more strain is placed on our health care system. But the most important thing, she wrote, will always be the health of the nation’s children. She cited statistics that say one in three children today is overweight or obese, and one in three is expected to develop diabetes.

“Our children deserve so much better than this,” she concluded. “As parents, we always put our children’s interests first. … Our leaders in Washington should do the same.”

Others believe that’s exactly what the problem is: parents should be responsible for their children, not Washington.
“If you’ve ever wondered just where the role of government ends and where the ability of adults to choose things for themselves and their children begins, don’t bother,” wrote James Gillespie of Time. “The answer, at least according to First Lady Michelle Obama, is nowhere.”

Not only that, Gillespie continued, but Michelle Obama’s statistics are faulty. She may say that her programs have made significant progress in children’s health, but “the fact is,” Gillespie wrote, “that there is no clear link between any of the programs she promotes and the trends she applauds.” Studies on children’s weight have a wide range of results, he wrote, without many definite conclusions to be seen.

Other critics believe the first lady is drastically simplifying the issue, ignoring important practical elements such as cost.
“Obama doesn’t address the high costs involved with compliance, difficulty of regular compliance, food waste, declines in participation and why the First Lady and administration believe the federal government should make these decisions rather than parents, students and local school officials,” wrote Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation. “There are major problems with these standards.”

Jay Evensen of the Deseret News, on the other hand, argues that maybe Michelle Obama is using the wrong platform to battle student obesity.

“A recent poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR found that almost seven of every 10 parents surveyed said their child’s school provided no daily physical education,” Evensen wrote. “A nation that is obsessed with sports ought to have little objection to a wholehearted emphasis on daily physical activity and play.”
A partial solution, wrote Evensen, might be found by taking a much simpler route than congressionally approved cafeteria food. “What kids eat is important,” he wrote. “But learning basic physical fitness is, too, and it can burn up a lot of the junk kids inevitably eat at home, if not at school. It also has the added advantage of being a lot less controversial.”

Twitter: BethanO2

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