The war against childhood obesity is ongoing and yet Republicans on a powerful House committee seem determined to fight for the enemy in pulling back on a requirement that all schools serve healthy lunches in the coming school year. The Senate must make sure it doesn’t happen.
The House Appropriations Committee passed an agriculture budget bill that included nearly $21 billion for child nutrition. But the bill would allow schools to opt out of White House nutritional guidelines passed in 2012.
And this comes following a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate for young children over the past decade. Obesity threatens the country from an economic and military standpoint, when it costs the country in the tens of billions a year to treat obesity-related conditions and when military recruiting is hampered because young people are too fat to qualify.
Yet, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., and chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, commented on the provision that would give schools 12 months to help them comply with new rules set forth by the Obama administration. Those rules, set in 2012, would add more fruits and green vegetables to school breakfasts and lunches and reduce the amount of salt and fat that children consume at schools.
“Everyone supports healthy meals for children,” he said. “But the bottom line is that schools are finding it’s too much, too quick.”
Rep. Sam Farr of California and the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee was right in calling the waiver a poison pill that would undermine congressional efforts to provide children with nutritional foods. Farr tried correcting this ridiculous waiver, but his effort to remove it from the budget bill was defeated 29 to 22 after nearly two hours of debate.
Groups opposed to stricter nutritional rules have pointed to higher cost and waste because children have thrown out food, but those are specious arguments. First of all, it is not the job of children to understand and decide what is best for them.
Second, to cope with that problem, schools need to figure out how to serve nutritional meals while also making them tasty. It’s not impossible. It could cost more, but it’s money well spent. And poor nutrition has its own significant costs. It’s just that somebody else is paying them.
First lady Michelle Obama’s op-ed article in the New York Times about Congress’ attempts to “undo so much of what we’ve accomplished on behalf of our country” was spot on. As she said, today 90 percent of schools report that they are meeting these new standards. The rest can learn. That’s what schools are for.