Posted by: ezzakazhall | June 24, 2012

Veggies with that?

 

This wee gem appeared in the Petaluma Patch, an community publication in the town of Petaluma, California on June 21:

“A new law will invalidate previous food contracts for school districts and require all students buying lunch to be served at least one piece of fruit or vegetable.

Petaluma schools are bracing to spend more money on meals following the implementation of the  Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which goes into effect on July 1.

The new mandate is an attempt to get kids to eat more fruit and vegetables and prevent childhood obesity. It will require all students to take a piece of fruit or vegetable with their lunches and for schools to serve only skim or 1 percent milk.

In addition, any food contracts entered into prior to the change will be prohibited…

And that has many schools crying foul.

Here is the rest of the article. 

On closer reading, it appears the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (and this initiative mentioned in the article) stems from the Let’s Move! programme, spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama –  a crusade to improve children’s nutrition and reduce childhood obesity rates. The aforementioned legislation “authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children” (more on that here).

On one hand, I support the US Government’s move to provide children with healthy food options, particularly if they may not otherwise have access to different types of food. Helen Clark’s Labour Government launched something similar here: the Fruit In Schools initiative, which supplied low decile schools with a free piece of fruit each day.

However, for me,  this new law raises three main issues:

1) The issue raised by the Petaluma Patch article: is it the role of the US Government to require schools to ensure their students get their 5 Plus A Day? Is it a school’s responsibility to get kids eating their veggies? And if not, whose responsibility is it? The parents’? An extended family’s? In that case, should it also be the Government’s responsibility to ensure that lower-income families have better access to healthy food choices?

2) If it is not the role of the school to adequately feed its students, but to educate them- then would the extra funding spent on the catering be better spent on education resources, particularly in lower socioeconomic areas?

3) How does the Government plan to police this new initiative? How does it plan to audit schools to make sure its students are indeed getting something colourful and/or crunchy with their lunch? And…what will be the penalty if students are tossing their uneaten apples in the bin on the way back to class?

I do not doubt the US Government and Mrs Obama’s good intentions- and no-one is arguing that fruit and vegetables are a good source of nutrients for young children. However, this new legislation certainly raises a few queries about how such a pratice will be monitored, and whether it is a good use of taxpayer dollars. And…how much government  intervention is too much.

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