When her behavioral economist friends told her that they could solve the problem of childhood obesity, Michelle Obama was thrilled. What could be better than providing healthy foods for schoolchildren all over America? By the advanced theories of these economists all children really want to eat right. (According to nutrition guidelines this meant that they all want to eat like rabbits.) They just need a nudge in the right direction.
In many ivied towers this passes as science. And rest equally assured not one of those who have foisted this program on America’s schoolchildren will ever say that it does not work. They will say that it just needs a few tweeks.
In the meantime, Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier assess the program for the Wall Street Journal:
Nearly five years after passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, mounting evidence suggests that the law may not be achieving either end. The well-intentioned signature policy of first lady Michelle Obama is an attempt to stem childhood obesity and hunger by providing healthier school meals. But as Congress prepares to reauthorize the program, which expires in September, lawmakers are sharpening their knives to address complaints of inedible meals, food waste and misspent funds.
However much it sounded like a great idea, in practice, things went seriously wrong:
Even though lunches are “free,” they are so unappetizing thanks to new nutrition standards that much food is thrown away. “It is horrible,” one inner-city principal, responsible for 1,200 students and 10,000 meals a week, told us. “It is just heartbreaking how much food is thrown away.”
So the students go hungry most of the day, until after school when enterprising vendors sell items like pork rinds, hot chips, or fresh corn mixed with cheese and mayonnaise from food carts outside of the school. Students don’t eat the free, healthy meals at school, remain hungry during the day, then flock to purchase the unhealthy foods the school lunches aim to replace.
Ah, yes. The real world outcome of Michelle Obama’s signature program has been more overweight students, more junk food, and more thrown-away food. While children all over the world are starving—so we are told—the American government, under the aegis of behavioral economists has found a new, more efficient way to waste food.
They must be proud.
But, government bureaucrats are on the case. They have concluded that the program needs fancier trucks. Because if carrots are delivered in a fancy truck, children will surely want to eat them:
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act also funds costly attempts to keep up with the latest food trends. Some school districts are buying fancy trucks to deliver free food to students all summer. Minneapolis public schools dispatch food trucks to stalk kids at area parks to deliver carrots. Bertrand Weber, the school- district’s nutrition director, is seeking more than $6 million to bring the program to the entire district.
As for the report card, Kelly and Stier write:
How’s all this working out? There has not been a significant decline in childhood obesity rates since 2010, and some data show obesity going up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five states had childhood obesity rates from 15%-19% in 2009. In 2013 eight states had rates that high.
Childhood obesity is a major health threat that must be addressed, particularly at home. But questions remain whether these federal policies are achieving anything except creating bloated waistlines and budgets. Feeding children food they don’t want while supervising every bite fosters defiance among students and an inability to make choices for themselves. As Kansas school-nutrition official Cindy Jones testified at the Senate hearing, “forcing students to take fruits and vegetables turns a healthy choice into a negative experience. Encourage and educate, instead of require, is always the best option.”
Keep in mind, our government has recently revised its guidelines for food consumption. After reading it one is forced to conclude that children would lose more weight and be healthier if they ate more steak, more hamburgers, more bacon, more eggs and more butter.