A decision to return deep fryers and sugary soft drinks in Texas school cafeterias has some shaking their heads in disbelief. Meanwhile, Michigan is moving to resume bake sales on campuses. The rebel yell of those who want freedom of choice for kids flies in the face of the worsening childhood obesity and health issues. Despite federal pushes for healthier nutrition in schools, some are demanding the return of their fried food, baked goods and sodas in cafeterias and campus vending machines, regardless of their state’s widening (pun intended) obesity problem.
The Texas Department of Agriculture’s commissioner announced the decision to put fried foods and sugary drinks back in schools this week and restore choices on what to serve to local districts. Commissioner Sid Miller claimed that the move to serve healthy food in cafeterias resulted in millions of dollars of food not being eaten and thrown away, and I’m here to put an end to that.” In other words, children are not eating healthy food, so he is riding in on his white horse to give local officials permission to sell unhealthy options instead. Miller also pointed out that government mandates have not made Texas children healthier.
Texas’ former commissioner, Susan Combs, expressed her surprise at the move, “I don’t think there is any way he could have studied the issue or he never would have done this.” She also added, “If you give children bad choices, they will make them.”
In Michigan, the legislature passed a bill on Friday to allow schools to have bake sales – not every once in a while – but up to twice a week. This will allow sales of donuts, cupcakes and other nutritional contraband in the name of fundraising. Current federal rules banned junk food and required the sale of foods that are lower in sugar, fat and salt; contain more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and leaner proteins; as well as using lower-fat dairy products.
Representatives for both states have indicated that the moves were not about the foods themselves (of supporting or fighting obesity). They say the moves are about reasserting local control versus federal control over school lunches (Take that Michelle Obama!).
The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in teens over the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2011, 19.1 percent of children 10 to 17 years old in Texas were obese and another 17.5 percent were overweight, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health. In Michigan, 14.8 percent were obese and 17.8 percent overweight.
The battle cry over healthy versus unhealthy school lunches and arguments in favor of personal choice will undoubtedly continue until there is a noticeable improvement in the health and weight of Americans of all ages. Texas and Michigan are the only states, so far, who want baked goods, sodas and fried foods returned in schools despite the ongoing obesity problem. While the federal government did allow some flexibility at the local level, other states have not made reversals. In addition, surveys have shown that parents generally support better nutritional standards for school lunches.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Reuters: Texas return of deep fryers to schools raises obesity concerns
Detroit Free Press: Texas repeals ban on deep fryers in schools
Detroit Free Press: Senate OKs bill to bring bake sales back to Michigan schools
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Obesity Facts
National Conference of State Legislatures: Childhood Overweight and Obesity Trends
Health food photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture