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May 29, 2014

In Our Opinion: Let facts determine school menus

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The Daily Star

---- — We would be surprised if most of us haven’t noticed that so many children are terribly overweight.

It is not the least bit politically correct to say this, but let’s be frank. Terribly overweight is just a polite way of saying fat.

Now, we’re not advocating individuals telling moms and dads that their kids are fat and that something should be done about it. But in a way, that is what the federal government has been trying to do at least since the passage of a child-nutrition law in 2010. As much as some of us have little faith in government programs, trying to change young people’s eating habits at school would appear to be the right thing to do.

First Lady Michelle Obama said as much in a roundtable discussion Tuesday.

“... The stakes just couldn’t be higher on this issue,” she said. “Because one in three children in this country are still overweight or obese, and one in three are on track to develop diabetes in their lifetimes. Those are real statistics.”

One in three kids ... overweight or obese. And here’s what makes it our business.

“... We currently spend $190 billion a year treating obesity-related conditions,” Mrs. Obama said, “and just imagine what those numbers are going to look like in 10 or 20 years if we don’t start working on this problem now, if we don’t solve it today.”

Makes a lot of sense to us, but there is a movement in the Republican House of Representatives to tone down the 2010 legislation. A House subcommittee voted last week to let schools waive the standards if they can prove they have a net loss over six months on school food programs. 

The main problem with the current rules is that lots of children apparently want no part of the healthy regimen. Schools complain that fruits and vegetables are routinely being thrown away. Limits on sodium and an emphasis on whole grains are also giving schools difficulty. 

The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools, have endorsed the new bill. The national PTA, on the other hand, is lobbying to keep the 2010 law intact. 

“The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health,” Mrs. Obama said.

That really is the bottom line. A strategy to reduce the number of fat children shouldn’t be determined by which point of view has the better lobbyists.

Big government programs rarely get everything right. Certainly changes can be made that make nutritious meals more appealing to kids. That, more than anything else, is what everyone should be talking about.