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“Drop that brownie, young lady! You’re in violation of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.”
A bit of rhetorical hyperbole? Actually, that might not be too much of an exaggeration of what’s in store under the new child nutrition law Congress passed Thursday. The bill, which gives the USDA power to regulate fat and sugar in schools, squeaked through the House thanks to heavy lobbying from sundry “public health” and child welfare groups. First Lady Michelle Obama’s support probably didn’t hurt, either.
The feds will also be empowered to regulate fundraisers where food is sold — i.e., bake sales. And that has PTAs and varsity cheerleading squads across the country seriously freaking out. According to the Associated Press:
The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers….
Public health groups pushed for the language on fundraisers, which encourages the secretary of Agriculture to allow them only if they are infrequent. The language is broad enough that a president’s administration could even ban bake sales, but Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled in a letter to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., this week that he does not intend to do that. The USDA has a year to write rules that decide how frequent is infrequent.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids’ lunchtime routines. She says selling junk food can easily be substituted with nonfood fundraisers.
Vilsack and Miller, who is on his way out as chairman of the education committee, don’t “intend” for the federal government to ban bake sales in your community school. But the law says it can. Maybe not next week. But maybe next year. Or maybe sometime in the future, when a true believer like Margo Wootan is Secretary of Agriculture. And in any event, states and officious localities are already headed in that direction.
Every expert on nutrition and good health will tell you, of course, that diet is one half of the equation. The other half is exercise. Kids are obese because they don’t exercise enough. Usually, television and video games get the blame. That might be part of it, sure.
But another trend of the past couple of decades has been the steady disappearance of recess. And why have schools cut back on the amount of time pupils may frolic on the playground? Because it cuts into valuable prep time for those all-important standardized tests. Tests are important. But why did tests become paramount? Ask the good folks at the U.S. Department of Education. Although they just might refer you to Congress for the answer.