School Food Cops And The 10-Percent Solution

Desperate for an obesity scapegoat, activists have rushed to single out food offered in schools — including bake sale goodies, vending machine snacks, and birthday cupcakes — as the primary culprit for childhood weight gain. But U.S. kids, on average, spend just 10 percent of their time at school. This leaves us to wonder: What happens during the other 7,860 hours each year when children are elsewhere?

Today The New York Times answered that question by featuring a study in the The American Journal of Public Health which found summer months, not the school year, are when children gain the most weight. In fact, weight gain among already-overweight children actually slows down when they enter kindergarten. Researchers found that "overweight, average, and underweight children all tend to display healthier growth patterns during the school year than during summer vacation."

Most Americans (food police excepted) intuitively understand that mothers and fathers have the biggest influence on their children’s diet, activity, and health. But activist groups, government bureaucracies, and politicians — the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Institute of Medicine, Marion Nestle, and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) come to mind — can’t sue parents or regulate family dinners. Yet. Instead, these food cops gloss over parental responsibility and blame a mythical "toxic food environment" in order to push for over-reaching regulations.

After the dust settles from this nationwide food fight, the study’s authors predict that nutrition militants will have little to show for their efforts: 

[I]nterventions that focus exclusively on improving unhealthy aspects of the school environment — for example, removing soft drink vending machines — may have limited effects given that the major sources of overweight reside outside the school walls.

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