The Obama administration proposed regulations Friday that would prohibit U.S. schools from selling unhealthy snacks.
The 160-page regulation from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would enact nutrition standards for “competitive” foods not included in the official school meal.
In practice, the proposed rules would replace traditional potato chips with baked versions and candy with granola. Regular soda is out, though high-schoolers may have access to diet versions.
“Although nutrition standards for foods sold at school alone may not be a determining factor in children’s overall diets, they are critical to providing children with healthy food options throughout the entire school day,” the proposed rule states.
Again, I really have no problems with the First Lady of the United States making childhood obesity her signature issue. It is a widespread and serious problem, and more advocacy and awareness is far from a bad thing. The real problem comes in when big government decides that it is going to Accomplish Something, and their proposed solution is always — surprise! — more big government. Top-down, one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic regulations are rarely efficient, innovative, or creative problem solvers, and they all too often induce a whole host of negative-impact unintended consequences in the meantime.
Just imposing regulations onto schools requiring them to put (more expensive) healthier foods into their vending machines does not mean that they can afford to do so, nor that the kids will necessarily eat them. Via the National School Lunch Program, the federal government has been pushing those disgusting, utilitarian meals on kids for decades, out of which they only eat the fries, nuggets, and pizza, and the taxpayer-assisted nature of the program meant that there was little incentive for outside competition.
School lunches are just not something the federal government needs to be spending our time and money doing. States and even just school districts are perfectly capable of finding entrepreneurial and — quelle horreur — private-sector solutions to the issue of school lunches. Case in point, via the WSJ:
Workers wearing hair nets are scattered at about 30 prep stations, mixing pasta with marinara sauce, hand-rolling sushi and creating homemade corn dogs. Tubs of fresh broccoli, baby carrots and green beans wait to be doled out into child-size portions. On this day, Kid Chow will deliver about 5,000 customized bagged lunches for about $4.25 to $6.50 each to elementary and middle schools in the Bay Area.
Kid Chow, which husband-and-wife team Rob and Jamie Feuerman, both 48 years old, launched in 2003, started by serving these lunches to one private school in San Francisco. Today, the company has 85 employees and serves 52 schools, takes in annual revenue of about $5 million and is profitable, Ms. Feuerman says. …
Outside providers that aim to serve up fresh local fare have become a “national phenomenon” in the past five years, says Ms. Feuerman. “The Bay Area is where you have the greatest concentration of these lunch providers.” …
“At Kid Chow we say it really is about the bean in the burrito,” says Ms. Feuerman, noting that kids are often labeled as picky eaters when they simply want choice.
True, some of the impetus from these new ventures is coming from the FLOTUS’s and USDA’s campaign, and like I said, there’s nothing wrong with advocacy that can raise awareness and get states and counties to start competing for students with the added metric of healthy school lunches — but government mandates are not an effective solution for problems that can easily be addressed on a much smaller scale.