February 9, 2014

Broad policy isn’t the most effective

The Daily Citizen

— Last week the Whitfield County Board of Education got proactive and decided to go ahead and implement parts of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK). That’s a federal law that expands the National School Lunch Program that was passed in 2010. It goes into effect July 1.

The goal of the act is to feed hungry children during school hours who may not get enough to eat at home while at the same time battle childhood obesity. It appears the two issues are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the federal plan claims to address both.

One of the areas the local school board took up concerns the law’s impact on bake sales and vending machine revenue — fundraising mechanisms that provide much-needed supplies for schools. Any food sales on school grounds, during school hours, will need to be within certain nutritional guidelines.

On the plus side, the law only applies during school hours, meaning students and school officials can still sell what they want at events that take place after school, such as Friday night football games, or on weekends. And fundraising off school grounds isn’t affected.

Otherwise, the federal law is quite precise:

Food must fall within calorie limits of less than 200 calories for snacks and 350 for meals, and sodium limits of less than 230 milligrams for snacks and 480 milligrams for meals. Then there are stated limits on fats and amounts of sugar in foods.

The law also limits food sold to those containing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, proteins or food that is at least one-fourth a fruit or vegetable. Drinks will have to be either plain water, unflavored low-fat milk, fat-free milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.

“There will be a downside” with fundraising, said Angie Brown, school nutrition director for the school system.

No kidding.

“We will have to look at each individual product and make sure (it falls within the law),” she said. “And that will mean some big changes.”

Will schools have to hire nutritional analysts to examine those baked goods brought from home to sell at school events?

This part of the HHFK Act doesn’t even address the changes that are coming for lunches and breakfasts served at school.

The federal government should remember that children are not obese because they eat school lunches. Many children are obese because they don’t get enough exercise. They don’t walk to or from school, they don’t eat healthy meals at home and they do lots of sitting in front of the computer and the television.

The overall goal of the program — helping kids build healthier habits for better lives — still is well worth pursuing.

But the federal government’s solution that a complex, intrusive meal plan fits all is all wrong.