Saturday, April 08, 2006

Junk Food and Junk Legislation

Washington passed some good legislation recently. They're trying to improve the quality of food served in schools as well as ensure that children are fed to begin with (subsidized breakfasts and so on).

But troubling issues persist, Senator Harkin's legislation makes sense.

Lawmakers try to expel junk food from schools
Friday, April 7, 2006; Posted: 10:02 a.m. EDT (14:02 GMT)

Lawmakers blame high-fat, high-sugar snacks that compete with nutritious meals in schools.

"Junk food sales in schools are out of control," Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said Thursday. "It undercuts our investment in school meal programs and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease."

Harkin and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to have the Agriculture Department set new nutritional standards for all food sold in schools. The goal is to restrict junk food sales in schools.

The department sets standards for breakfasts and lunches in federal school meal programs, which reimburse public and nonprofit private schools for giving free or reduced-price meals to kids. Those meals must follow federal dietary guidelines, which call for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less calories, fat, added sugars and sodium.

But the standards don't apply to a la carte lines in cafeterias, vending machines or school stores. The Agriculture Department has tried to restrict junk food before, but a 1983 federal court ruling, in a lawsuit by the National Soft Drink Association, said the limits could only apply to cafeterias during meals, not for the entire day throughout campus.

The last paragraph is critical. In CT, the Rell administration has passed legislation encouraging schools to eliminate or severely restrict vending machine sales, school charity and non-profit sales, and so on.

I wish the Democrats had said no to this. Instead, School Boards across the State of CT are now at the mercy of the OPWGIABUCs (Orwellian-dispositioned people with good intentions and bad unintended consequences). So today we have Corporations pitting their special interest money against this legislation and, quite frankly, I'm on the vendor's side.

I happen to favor something else (and, yes, it's too late so this is just spitting into the wind, but...). I would like to see the Democratic leadership offer a bill that eliminates Rell's proposal in favor of a bill that taxes healthier food less in grocery stores and offers tax breaks to the creation of smaller grocery stores (moms and pops) who carry high volumes of healthier food vs big boxes that carry everything under the sun. Here, rather than creating a class of nutritional criminals who need an occasional candy bar or soda, we allow people to choose healthy, less expensive meals (WELLness) OR to exercise their God-given right to be as fat, unhealthy, or happy eating whatever they damned-well choose.

A second-part of the legislation must require soft-drink vendors to offer healthy alternatives on school premises. Nutritionalists can create guidelines for a boutique class of beverage that is healthy, lower-in sugar, and so on. Coke and Pepsi and whoever can all get this done. The soft-drink machines must offer low-fat chocolate milks and drinks as well as (say) green tea and low-sugared juices, and so on.

A third leg of the legislation can require vending machines to dispense a minimum of one or a set limit of drinks per day per student id card. Student id cards could work just like NY's subway cards, add a magnetic stripe that the student uses as a cash card. The students load the card with a few dollars worth of purchasing power and the machines regulate usage. This gives parents a record of eating habits for their child and gets the school out of the nutritional cop business.

Teachers and administrators are adults and citizens, nobody has the right to tell them what to eat. Nor should parents of fundraisers wind up having to flee school grounds to sell brownies. This kind of regulation is absurd at face value.

On a final note, personal health is becoming a science that's increasingly able to map every individual's body to a health profile unique to the individual. Access to this level of health care is increasingly based on wealth but nonetheless, legislation that attempts to broadly enforce nutrition regiments ON EVERYBODY NO MATTER WHAT are doomed to fail and leave a wake of nasty, ugly lawsuits in tow. Jody Rell's feel-good election year grandstanding will slam this State hard in the coming years, truthi but unwholesome.

I would urge all school boards in CT to conform to the minimum required to stay out of the line of fire. The biologic needs of children are all different. For example, I've been repeatedly lectured that fruit juices are unhealthy because they are high in sugars and so on. I have two healthy, athletic boys who grew up on 2% milk, fruit juice and balanced diets - I have yet to see anything detrimental about their ingestion of fruit juices. While nutritional studies may find overweight people have problems with these items, is it really the State's right to prevent my healthy teenagers from drinking something I have no problem with and they have no problem with?

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