School foods

Given the problems with obesity among children and youths in the US (“between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese,” according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), something should be done about the foods many of them eat. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reported that two-thirds of states do little to limit junk-food and soda sales in schools. Is that the place to put the effort?

Writing in the New York (NY, US) Times under the headline “Effort to Limit Food in Schools Faces Hurdles,” Kim Severson examined the politics involved in enacting laws that change children’s access to junk foods.

Federal lawmakers are considering the broadest effort ever to limit what children eat: a national ban on selling candy, sugary soda and salty, fatty food in school snack bars, vending machines and cafeteria lines.

Whether the measure, an amendment to the farm bill, can survive the convoluted politics that have bogged down that legislation in the Senate is one issue. Whether it can survive the battle among factions in the fight to improve school food is another.

These efforts surely come with good intentions, but I have to bet that they’ll have few beneficial effects. Cutting off the supply isn’t likely to eliminate the demand.

Instead, we need to identify the causes of the behavior and address this problem in a more technically focused manner. I’m reminded of the functional behavior analysis of fuel consumption that Erin Wade described (see earlier post here). We need something similar here. The result would probably involve constraints on advertising and promotion of rampant consumerism (with inevitable complaints of how such would constitute a violation of the free speech rights of corporations—sigh) and, instead, promotion of healthy eating and exercise.

Link to the 2001 AAC&AP fact sheet about obesity in children and youths. Link to a PDF of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study. Link to the CSPI press release about the study of school foods. Link to Ms. Severson’s article.

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Filed under Equity, Food, Free speech, News, Notes and comments, Science, Skepticism

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