In an attempt to curb childhood obesity rates, the US Agriculture Department has announced it will sweep through the over 100,000 public schools of this country and limit the fat, calorie, sugar, and sodium content of almost everything sold during the school day. This would take all candy bars, sports drinks, and sodas from vending machines and replace them with “healthier” options. The article I read claimed the replacements would be diet drinks and granola bars. Seems like an excellent plan on the surface. Who wants little fat children pudging around with the potential to bog down the future medical systems with obesity related diseases, right?
Any time a government throws money at a problem, it ultimately fails. The problem with bureaucratic organizations, though, is they completely miss the point. They nonchalantly dictate what our children shall eat, but do not consider the cost of doing so. Or maybe they do, and that is what I fear the most. What gave them the right to dictate what our children will eat? Well, my friends, we did. Or our schools did. More exactly, our states did. They take money from the federal government for free lunch and breakfast programs and then allocate it to local schools. Because nothing is really free; schools are then under the rules and bureaucracy that are attached. What I meant by them missing the point is they fail to look at what is really causing not only childhood obesity, but all obesity. This nation has become a load of big fatties, but I do not feel it is entirely our fault as individuals.
Before 1940, it was near impossible to find data on obesity in the United States; being overweight was an issue only the rich had to contend with. Most of the population could barely feed themselves. The 1950s brought a change. According to the CDC, 33 percent of Americans were overweight and 9.7 percent were obese. By the 1960s obesity rose to 11.3 percent, and the 1970s brought us to 14.4 percent. By the 1980s obesity rates pushed 23 percent and 56 percent of Americans were overweight. The 1990s took us over 30 percent. The last report from the CDC says 35.7 percent of adults are obese and 17 percent of children between ages 2 and 19. And get this… 69.2 percent of Americans are overweight.
Throughout most of history, becoming fat was a sign of wealth. But the statistics show the exact opposite to be true in our case. Lower income people are the people getting fat at a staggering rate. Anyone with a lick of sense would scratch their head only so long before digging for the reason why. If we look at what has transpired in the last 60 years, the point at which obesity began to rise and become a danger, we will see a few things that stand out as possible culprits.
To me, it all began in 1946 when Harry S. Truman created the national school lunch program after reading a report about men that were rejected from serving during the draft for WWII because they had medical conditions that stemmed from childhood malnutrition. The program was such a success that in 1966 Lyndon B Johnson added the national free breakfast program. In the years between, fast food became ever popular and food companies began mass production of products to supply self-serve markets and lower the cost to broaden their consumer base. Of course, these foods needed longer shelf lives and consistency, so the food companies began adding stuff to make that happen.
This is called processing. Most all food we eat is processed. Unless you pull it directly from the ground or pluck it right off the tree, bush or vine…it is processed. Basically, anything altered from its natural state. Processed isn’t always a bad thing. It includes but is not limited to:
The problem comes with what is done to the food with chemicals, flavoring, coloring, and preservatives. Food becomes… well, it becomes not food. In this current method of super-processing foods, industries have taken the nutritional values from our diets. Our government requires labeling on food you buy in the store, but they do not require the companies to list all the ingredients. I know I have questioned on many occasions what those “natural flavorings” are exactly. I don’t think I’d be able to pronounce them, and I am positive they will not be “natural.” Currently, Americans spend 90 percent of their food budgets on processed foods. In 2003 the World Health Organization released a report saying, “Processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity levels and chronic disease around the globe.” Scientific data varies depending on whom you ask, but certainly any that financially benefit would not announce that their products are making the people fat and sick.
Another thing that could factor into the obesity rate multiplication could very well be another program brought to us by the federal government. When I was growing up it was just called food stamps. Now it has a fancy-schmancy name…SNAP. The government changed it to encourage people to sign up. The stigma of food stamps obviously prevented participation. And goodness, how the program has grown. As of September of 2012, there were close to 47,000,000 Americans receiving food stamps. Yes. That is million. That is 14 percent of the population at a cost to you, dear taxpayer, of $71,800,000,000 annually. Yes. That is billion. A more recent report says 47.7 million US citizens are receiving benefits as of March 2013, costing tax payers $74.6 billion in 2012. That is a 70 percent increase in enrollment over that last five years. Science Daily printed an article in 2009 that claimed that the average user of food stamps had a Body Mass Index (BMI) 1.15 points higher than non-users.
I’m not sure if food stamps make people fatter, but I do know the food we buy in most stores is not helping us. Junk food is cheap and easy. With the costs of basic commodities soaring due to inflation and the need for most households to maintain two incomes so they won’t have to take food stamps, it is near impossible for the average American to eat healthy. Now we have the federal government butting in again and trying to dictate what schools must feed the children.
I will reiterate my disagreement with this move. I believe it is a futile effort to throw more money we do not have as a nation at a problem we created. As it stands now, school lunches are about as healthy and balanced as a Big Mac with a side of Natural Red #4. The average menu is comprised of super-processed foods that must be prepared in a quick manner to feed the masses. Just because the labeling says it is low in sugar, fat or calories, doesn’t mean there are any guarantees what is in the food is actually food.
Already, our schools are subsidized to the max with state and federal funding for breakfasts and lunches. Some schools have even disallowed children from bringing their lunches from home because that would take away the money they are subsidized if the child eats there. The massive amount of waste is another issue that raises my hackles. Too many times, entire plates of food are dumped in trashcans and these children we “must” feed eat nothing just so they won’t have to eat the slop they are given. Of course, as soon as they get home they will scarf down a bag of Doritos and a Big Gulp. If schools are made to buy whole foods, they will go bankrupt and there will be no place for the children to eat or learn anymore. Plus, it is not even obtainable for a lot of inner city districts to buy fresh, nutritional foods at a rate they can afford.
Until we fix the poisoned, genetically altered, super processed food source, we will continue to be a nation of fat, sickly Americans. No amount of do-gooding, legislation or money will change the outcome if you do not get to the source. People lie all the time, but the numbers always tell the truth. And the numbers say we have caused our obesity and health epidemic.