Don’t worry, citizens. It’s for our own good.
WASHINGTON — The government’s attempt to reduce childhood obesity is moving from the school cafeteria to the vending machines.
The Obama administration is working on setting nutritional standards for foods that children can buy outside the cafeteria. With students eating 19 percent to 50 percent of their daily food at school, the administration says it wants to ensure that what they eat contributes to good health and smaller waistlines. The proposed rules are expected within the next few weeks.
Efforts to restrict the food that schoolchildren eat outside the lunchroom have long been controversial.
Representatives of the food and beverage industries argue that many of their products contribute to good nutrition and should not be banned. Schools say that overly restrictive rules, which could include banning the candy sold for school fund-raisers, risk the loss of substantial revenue that helps pay for sports, music and arts programs. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that about $2.3 billion worth of snack foods and beverages are sold annually in schools nationwide.
Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in every five children are obese.
Setting aside the debate over whether or not we really have an obesity crisis (I’d contend it’s a lot of hype, driven by some less-than-convincing science and inaccurate health metrics like body mass index), what good will banning junk food and soda vending machines really do?
These kids won’t be in school forever. One day they’ll be out in the real world, and in the real world there are lots of opportunities to buy and eat unhealthy foods. Denying them choice in school doesn’t teach them how to be healthy. It only breeds resentment for authority, and turns junk food/soda into an alluring taboo for kids.
What happens when these kids leave school? Are we going to try and ban junk food and soda everywhere? The nanny statists are already trying that, but as we’ve learned from alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition, that sort of policy doesn’t work. If you make Twinkies illegal, as absurd as it sounds, there will be a black market for Twinkies.
The only way Americans, including American kids, are going to get healthier is if they choose to be healthier. It’s not something the government can legislate.