People don’t form governments to tell them what to eat. Our government was formed to protect people’s inalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. When governments attempt to do more than that, they violate the rights they are supposed to protect—and invariably produce unintended consequence, usually the very opposite from what they intend.
Take the case of chocolate milk. It has become a fad all across the country to ban chocolate milk in school lunches. Even the federal government has gotten in on this. The argument has been that white milk is healthier because the same volume of chocolate milk includes chocolate and sugar, meaning slightly less volume of milk, and eliminating the sugar is said to help combat obesity. So if only white milk were available, the children supposedly would consume more actual milk and be healthier.
But contrary to the good intentions of shortsighted lawmakers, the ban on chocolate milk results in far less milk being consumed. Elementary school children drank 35 percent less milk when flavored milk was banned, according to a recent study by the School Nutrition Association, a group representing school cafeteria workers. Some parents report their children won’t drink white milk because they don’t like the taste. Such children prefer to drink water if they can’t get chocolate milk. An audit at one Chicago school where milk is the only beverage available found that a third of the milk taken at lunch was thrown away.
About 70 percent of milk consumed in schools is flavored, mostly chocolate. For some children the only milk they get is at school lunch; if they won’t drink white milk, they get no milk at all. Clearly it is better for them to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.
The simplistic—and false—claim that children will be healthier if chocolate milk is banned shows an ignorance of the scientific nutritional benefits of what they are prohibiting. More than 20 studies link link support the benefits of high-quality protein and nutrients in chocolate milk for recovery after athletic exercise. Here are some examples:
“Lowfat chocolate milk naturally has many of the nutrients most commercial recovery drinks have to add in the lab—including high-quality protein and key electrolytes like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.”
“Lowfat chocolate milk has 9 essential nutrients, including some not typically found in recovery drinks, that an athlete needs to perform at his or her best every time.”
“Lowfat chocolate milk contains high-quality protein to help repair and rebuild muscles after strenuous exercise. It’s also been shown to help athletes tone up—gain more lean muscle and lose fat—compared to drinking a carb-only drink…[and] help athletes build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures.”
“The researchers suggest that athletes can consider fat free chocolate milk as an economic nutritional alternative to other sports nutrition beverages to support post-endurance exercise skeletal muscle repair.”
“Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that following an exhausting ride, trained cyclists had significantly more power and rode faster, shaving about six minutes, on average, from their ride time when they recovered with lowfat chocolate milk compared to a carbohydrate sports drink and calorie-free beverage.”
Furthermore, the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and National Medical Association argue that the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar and have issued a joint statement to that effect.
The movement to ban chocolate milk got its impetus from the movement to prohibit vending machines from selling soft drinks at schools because they contain sugar. This was part of the “war on obesity.” Since chocolate milk contains sugar, it too became a target in the “war on obesity.”
The war did not stop at the school yard. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated a law banning the sale of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces by restaurants, delis, movie theaters and food carts. That was supposed to show he was fighting obesity. But a week later he showed up at Nathan’s 97th annual July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest, where he announced: “It is a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate the inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For the contestants assembled here, that includes consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible.” This hypocrite would deny beverage consumers the same “inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers” to consume sugary beverages of their choice that he grants for “consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible.” Indeed, he proclaimed the latter “a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate.”
Michael Siegel, M.D., is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Here is his explanation of facts about the hot dog eating contest:
“The winner of the 2011 hot dog eating contest consumed 62 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.
“A single Nathan’s hot dog has 297 calories and 18 grams of fat. The bun contains an additional 120 calories. Thus, a single serving delivers 417 calories and 18 grams of fat. This means that the winner of the hot dog eating contest consumed 25,854 calories and 1,116 grams of fat within 10 minutes.
“Thus, Mayor Bloomberg participated in a ceremony that glamorized and promoted the over-consumption of already calorie- and fat-laden food to literally millions of people, including about half a million New Yorkers. And this is the guy who now wants to limit soda consumption to 16 ounces?”
For Bloomberg’s “blatant hypocrisy,” Dr. Michael Siegel inducted him into the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.
In March 2013, one day before Bloomberg’s large soda ban was due to go into effect, Justice Milton Tingling of state Supreme Court in Manhattan called the ban ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and tossed the regulation out.
Bloomberg’s position on the sugary beverages is not only an infringement on individuals’ rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness but shows his ignorance of facts regarding beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages account for only 7 percent of calories of the average American’s diet, according to government data. And that 7 percent includes not only sodas but fruit juice drinks, sport drinks, teas and coffee with sugar.
Added sugars consumed from soda have declined 39 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and yet obesity has been increasing during this period. Since 1998, the average calories per serving from beverages is down 23 percent due to development of more low- and zero-calorie drinks—yet obesity continued to rise. Sales of regular soft drinks declined 12.5 percent from 1999 to 2010—yet obesity rates continued to rise during that same time. These facts make it foolish to believe Bloomberg’s policy will reduce obesity.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states: “There are multidimensional determinants of obesity….A food solution remains elusive, but a reductionist approach that focuses on one food or one component of the food supply, in the presence of too much, is unlikely to succeed.”
Dr. Gilbert Ross, M.D., practiced medicine for 19 years, was a member of the faculty of Cornell University Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and is currently Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health. He says, “There is no solid evidence that restricting sodas to a certain size will have the slightest impact on obesity.” Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, a renowned epidemiologist who questions conventional wisdom on food, said, “Not only is the latest proposed ban frightening in terms of government overreach, but it will have no impact on obesity.”
An Australian study of children consuming sugar-sweetened beverages 1995 to 2007 found that obesity had increased despite a substantial decline in intake of refined sugar.
Nor will taxing sugary beverages reduce obesity. West Virginia and Arkansas are two states that tax soft drinks, yet both are among the 10 states with highest obesity rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A very recent study at Cornell University of a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages shows the futility of such measures in combating obesity. In From Coke to Coors: A Field Study of a Fat Tax and its Unintended Consequences, the researchers found:
- Taxes on sweets encouraged substitution. In this case, shoppers substituted beer for soft drinks, and the households that previously had purchased beer bought even more beer after soft drinks were taxed.
- The total fluid ounces of beverages purchased by shoppers remained steady throughout the entire study. There was a drop in unhealthy drink purchases during the first month, but consumers resumed their soft drink purchases thereafter, with no decrease in purchases at the three-month or six-month marks.
The government’s role in school lunches extends far beyond the chocolate milk issue. In Chicago some schools prohibit children from bringing lunch from home. Citing a situation parallel to that of children who won’t drink white milk, a parent Erica Martinez said, “Some kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast. So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.” The WSJ wrote, “The healthy food is so bad that kids are literally starving themselves rather than tucking into vegetarian curries, or else engaging in the black market.” (Is the black market something we want children to learn at school?) The Los Angeles Times reported “At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.”
A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman couldn’t say how many schools ban lunches from home. Monique Bond said there is “no formal policy” and the decision is left to the principals. Regarding the Little Village school, she said, “this principal is encouraging healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.” Apparently, in attempting to impact beyond the classroom some schools are shortchanging the educational function of the school. On May 30, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported some “schools have diverted funds from teaching to reconfigure their menus to federal specifications.”
The federal school food regulations were mandated by a 2010 law and went into effect in 2012. According to the WSJ, “The rules impose very specific quotas for the type and amount of food served. Cafeterias, for example, must feature five ‘vegetable subgroups’ across ‘dark green, red/orange, beans/peas(legumes), starchy and ‘other’ vegetables.’ Schools have had to eliminate popular items such as sandwiches. Two slices of bread over five days exceed the weekly grain limit.
“The rules are as poorly devised as they are overly proscriptive, and often the school lunch calorie minimums cannot be satisfied with any combination of the low-calorie Let’s Move-approved foods.
Julia Bauscher, former president of the national School Nutrition Association (SNA) and currently director of nutrition services for Louisville’s public schools, says,
“I currently have one lunch entree that meets the a la carte requirements: grilled chicken breast on a whole-grain bun. But I can’t serve condiments with it. How many kids are going to eat grilled chicken with absolutely nothing on it?”
Mary Anderson, culinary supervisor at the Wayzata High School in Minnesota, says, “The kids weren’t getting enough food, they weren’t full. We really realized that we were not meeting consumer needs.” The Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Officials [at that school] are so unhappy with the new standards they are doing away with the national school lunch program completely next year.”
A 2014 investigation by the Government Accountability Office found some schools were adding “gelatin, ice cream, or condiments such as butter, jelly, ranch dressing or cheese sauce to become compliant,” which increased kids’ consumption of sugar, salt and fat.
The federal government subsidizes the banning of lunches from home by putting money in the pockets of the school district and its food provider. It pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch. If children in Chicago’s public schools don’t qualify for free or reduced-price meals and can’t bring lunch from home, they would have to pay $2.25 for food they may refuse to eat.
Brenda Braulick, president of the Minnesota branch of the School Nutrition Association, says she sees
food waste every day from kids who don’t want a fruit or vegetable but are forced to take one. “What we’re seeing is a lot of whole fruit, whole apples, whole bananas, not even with a bite taken out. To force a kid to take it doesn’t do any good.” The wasted food in Braulick’s district goes to a local hog farm. The USDA pays the district an extra 6 cents for fruits and vegetables that cost 25 to 30 cents.
The Los Angeles Unified School District alone “throws out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more,” estimates David Binkle, the district’s food services director. Nationally the cost of wasted food from schools is estimated at over $1 billion annually.
With so many students refusing to eat the required food, it’s not surprising that many are also rejecting the entire National School Lunch Program. The Government Accountability Office reports that participation last year plunged by 1.2 million students, the first such decline in 30 years. Nationwide, students are buying a million fewer lunches per day than two years ago. At least 534 schools have dropped out of the program, and it’s not just individual schools but entire school districts that are dropping out. The USDA says about 150 school districts have exited the program.
In July 2014 the Fort Thomas Independent School District in northern Kentucky dropped out of the federal lunch program after students last year bought 30,000 fewer meals from its school cafeterias. Superintendent Gene Kirchner said dropping out will cost the district $200,000 in lost federal funds, but he said the district would lose even more money if it has to serve food the students refuse to buy. Some districts get much more federal money—so much more that they are hooked. “I get over $30 million in federal money,” says. Donna Martin, school nutrition director of Georgia’s Burke County School District, “I can’t just give that up.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 as part of Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, to combat childhood obesity. “We’ve seen the connection between what our kids eat and how well they perform in school,” President Obama said when signing the law. If what he said is true, the law must be degrading student performance in schools.
The situation is scheduled to get worse. The USDA set a series of increasingly strict rules to be introduced over 10 years, starting in 2012. Nutritionists are worried about new standards for grains, fruits and vegetables, and especially sodium. The sodium limit will be a problem by 1917, says Leah Smith, current national president of the school nutrition association.
The SNA and other opponents of the food rules are calling on Congress and the USDA to delay implementation of new standards to give the public time to gradually adjust to them. This is the wrong approach. The current standards are already worse than no standards at all. They have resulted in students getting less milk, rather than more, some getting no milk at all, and none getting the nutritional benefits of chocolate milk. They have resulted in enormous waste of taxpayers’ dollars and parents dollars. They have resulted in enormous wastes of food, and yet countless students get no lunch at school. Kirchner says it’s a particular problem at high schools, “They’re just skipping lunch and stopping by the minimart on the way home instead.” Rebecca Stinson, a principal at an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side, said, “The kids may have money or earn money and [buy junk food] without their parents’ knowledge.” Thus the regulations motivate children to eat more junk food and and undermine the parents’ role in their children’s diet. It is time to end these problems.
The issue is not whether stricter regulations should be mandated sooner or later but whether such regulations should exist at all. “This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Center for Consumer Freedom. “This is a perfect example of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again….Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?”
If we all have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we are entitled to exercise that liberty in the choice of foods and beverages in our pursuit of happiness. This applies as much to chocolate milk as to stuffing oneself with hot dogs. And it is the very purpose of government to protect those rights. When it does so, people work out for themselves the most satisfactory—and economical—arrangements for providing goods and services to each other, without the interference of government. That is what freedom means and how and why it works in the marketplace. And it is why government “solutions” are always inadequate, expensive and with characteristically large amounts of waste. Those consequences are unavoidable when government fails in its purpose of protecting individual rights and substitutes regulations and mandates for social, economic or political goals at the expense of liberty.
The federal government should never have gotten involved in school lunches; it has no constitutional authority for doing so. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a rolling disaster. It has done just the opposite of what its title suggests. It has made nutrition worse for children, leaving more of them unsatisfied and hungry. It should not be “improved” or amended; it should be abolished.
[First published at American Liberty.]