President and Mrs. Obama seem to be terrific parents and should be commended for the steps they have taken to improve the health and well-being of America’s kids. Back in December 2010, President Obama signed the “Healthy, Hunger Free Children Act” into law, and in January 2012, the First Lady, in partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, unveiled a set of new school meal standards, they claim “will improve the health and well-being of 32 million kids nationwide.”
As I understand it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food consumption guidelines are based on net daily consumption, and school lunch recommendations are designed to enhance an already healthy diet consisting of two additional balanced meals and healthy in-between meal snacks.
Every child is unique. Johnny may prefer his milk at breakfast and dinner rather than at lunch, while Susie may prefer yogurt in lieu of milk. Joshua may hate vegetables, so his Mom sneaks them in by serving veggie burgers at dinner.
Enter: An unnamed (for her protection) 4-year old North Carolinian girl whose “mom packed” lunch consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, potato chips and apple juice was apparently deemed unacceptable according to USDA nutrition guidelines and was given a whole school cafeteria lunch to supplement the already plentiful lunch — by someone I affectionately call “Mr. Tubby.” The effort backfired when, according to the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, “the girl was so intimidated by the inspection process” she only ate the supplemental chicken nuggets.”
At the time of this writing, the circumstances surrounding the incident have all the makings of a “whodunit.” The Carolina Journal said the alleged “inspector” was a “state agent,” others said it was a “state inspector,” and some school officials say the teacher was to blame. I just got off the phone with District 46 Representative G.L. Pridgen, who said he was still caught in the crossfire of information in an effort to assist the girl’s parents.
When it comes right down to it, “whodunit” doesn’t matter as much as why “whodunit” did it. Most likely, the USDA did not send an inspector to pick through sack lunches. Furthermore, it is admirable that the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services has rules requiring all pre-K programs serve nutritious meals according to USDA standards — but those guidelines and suggestions should end where the role of the parent begins.
It is as if some of those in leadership genuinely believe they know better than we do what is best for our kids. They don’t. With that in mind, it is reasonable to assume that USDA-recommended lunches served by schools may or may not be healthy — simply because officials haven’t a clue what kids consume before and after school. Giving a child a school meal that was designed as a prototypical meal for the general population could, in reality, be a recipe for obesity based on an individual’s overall eating habits.
Inspector Tubby’s actions should serve to remind us how well-meaning rules or guidelines become grotesquely out-of-whack when the government sees fit to meddle in matters deemed personal. What was meant to help us hurts us when the government casts out a rule “for the greater good” and individuals get swallowed-up in the process.
A guideline is only as effective as its implementation. If there are other “Inspector Tubbys” out there doing the implementing, the well-meaning USDA guidelines the First Lady created to “improve the health and well-being of 32 million kids nationwide” could do the opposite to facilitate rather than impede childhood obesity.