The new federal guidelines for school lunches are heavy-handed.
They push more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Less meat. Fewer calories.
While healthier school lunches make sense, there needs to be less mandate and more flexibility for schools, parents and students. The guidelines need to be revised.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has taken a leadership role among the nation’s agriculture commissioners in asking the USDA to eliminate the “restrictive dietary guidelines on meat protein and calories.” He has criticized the “one-size fits all” federal rules.
In making his case, Goehring says an 8-year-old needs 58 grams of protein per day but the school lunch guidelines supply only 14 grams.
The guidelines are not, however, all bad. They have not been generated without cause.
Americans are overweight to an extent that it’s an epidemic. It’s part of what’s driving increases in health care costs.
A national study predicts that by 2030, more than half of the people in a majority of U.S. states will be obese. That same study predicts 57 percent of all adults in North Dakota will be obese by that time. The state’s obesity rate was already 28 percent in 2011.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s policy on school lunches says that the restrictive dietary guidelines will not solve problems of childhood obesity and that a “more comprehensive approach, including dietary educational and increased physical activity is needed.”
Well, that’s certainly true. But eating healthier lunches — although perhaps under guidelines less restrictive than those that went into effect July 1 — can’t hurt.
We all understand that Americans are much less healthy than they could be, than they should be.
When it comes to public policy, programs like school lunch are a legitimate venue for action. A study in Michigan of 1,000 sixth-graders found that those students who ate school lunch regularly were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.
The push-back is not just coming from Goehring. Football players from a high school in Wisconsin are protesting the calorie guidelines for school lunches.
The guidelines put the limit for high schoolers at 850 calories, which is consistent with a Mayo Clinic recommendation. A football player might burn nearly 3,000 calories a day. One size fits all certainly doesn’t fit in this situation.
The problem with the guidelines isn’t the intent or even federal government’s involvement. The problem is that the guidelines do not give local schools the flexibility they need to serve their children healthy lunches. The guidelines do not take into account individual students and their activities.
The issue of childhood obesity is real and serious. School lunches can be a big part of addressing childhood obesity.
But to succeed, schools need to be able to use common sense in meeting nutrition goals for their students.