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September 18 2012

Still Hungry, No Healthier

Julie Gunlock

Rep. Steve King of Iowa has introduced legislation to eliminate the calorie limits on school lunches.  King says “The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama's ‘Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,' was interpreted by Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want."

What…you hadn’t heard about that particular detail of Michelle Obama’s 2010 school lunch overhaul called the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act (now better known as the Still Hungry and No Healthier Kids Act)? The 2010 bill directed schools to limit the calories in kids’ school lunches. But since kids come in different shapes and sizes (we know this fact is distressing to the First Lady but she really should come to terms with the fact that not all kids are rail thin), the calorie limit for one kid doesn’t work for another.

It’s easy to hard to understand that a 100-pound cheerleader needs fewer calories than a 280-pound line-backer.  But now, thanks to government meddling, both kids get the same tray of food if they participate in the school lunch program. The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has an excellent story examining one local high school’s revamped school lunch program and the problems that are arising because of these nonsensical calorie limits:

By 7 a.m. Monday, senior Nick Blohm already had burned about 250 calories in the Mukwonago High School weight room.

He grabbed a bagel and a Gatorade afterward; if he eats before lifting, he gets sick.

That was followed by eight periods in the classroom, and then three hours of football practice. By the time he headed home, he had burned upward of 3,000 calories - his coach thinks the number is even higher.

But the calorie cap for his school lunch? 850 calories.

"A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice begins," Blohm said. "Our metabolisms are all sped up."

Following new federal guidelines, school districts nationwide have retooled their menus to meet new requirements to serve more whole grains, only low-fat or nonfat milk, daily helpings of both fruits and vegetables, and fewer sugary and salty items. And for the first time, federal funds for school lunches mandate age-aligned calorie maximums. The adjustments are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 touted by Michelle Obama and use the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The changes are hard to swallow for students like Blohm. On Monday, 70% of the 830 Mukwonago High students who normally buy lunch boycotted cafeteria food to protest what they see as an unfair "one size fits all thing." Middle schoolers in the district also boycotted their school lunches, with counts down nearly half Monday. They're not alone in their frustration; schools across the country are reporting students who are unhappy with the lunch offerings.

The sub sandwich line at Mukwonago High used to let students pile veggies on a six-inch French bread bun. Options now include a fist-sized whole wheat roll or multigrain wrap, and the once popular line is now mostly empty.

The healthier food is less the issue than the portions.

"A freshman girl who weighs 100 pounds can eat this lunch and feel completely full, maybe even a little bloated," said Joey Bougneit, a Mukwonago senior.

But Blohm is a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker. He's also class president, and takes several Advanced Placement classes. If schools want students to perform well, he said, they can't be sitting in their chairs hungry.

Last year's fare featured favorites like chicken nuggets and mini corn dogs in helpings that were "relatively decent," Bougneit said. But health-conscious regulations have changed that. Last week's super nacho plate, for example, offered just eight tortilla chips.

Government intervention often leads to these types of consequences. In an effort to reduce obesity, the new school lunch program might just be contributing to child hunger. 

Of course there’s some good news to emerge from this story.  The athlete highlighted in the story appears to be packing his lunch these days:

In a clothing store bag the size of a backpack, Blohm lugged his homemade, linebacker-size lunch including a bag of raw carrots, two ham sandwiches on wheat bread, two granola bars, an apple and three applesauce cups - an estimated total of 1,347 calories.

How long will the students keep boycotting the lunch program?

"I've already told my mom we might be packing my lunch for the rest of the year," Blohm said.

Blohm’s mom and dad should have been doing this all along. There’s no reason to let your kids eat the school lunch if you can afford to prepare a home-packed lunch for them to take to school.  Maybe this is one “unintended consequence” of government meddling we can all live with.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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