One out of every three? Now that’s hard to believe. That’s one out of every three children in America is overweight or obese. A staggering statistic for a country that prides itself on athletic excellence, Olympic dominance, and a general ethic of competitiveness. But that’s what the statistics are telling us, and what became the motivation behind a sweeping overhaul bill of child nutrition standards signed by President Obama today.
As with any government action these days, there are voices of opposition from both the right and left, but I believe this health reform is right down the middle and completely common sense. To give you the brief overview, the measure gives the government more power to set nutritional standards for public school cafeterias and vending machines, and a financial boost to help make this a reality. The bill also provides funding to subsidize healthy meals for lower income children.
For those concerned (and we all should be) about the exploding costs of our country’s healthcare system, this move targets the root of the problem, where poor nutrition in children leads to chronic diseases in adults, like diabetes and heart disease. These diseases are reaching statistically epidemic levels in lower income and minority families, who often lack affordable access to healthy eating choices. America’s public school system is the only institution with the scope and reach to effectively address the issue. Having spent nearly three years working to reform New York City’s school system, I know firsthand that school-subsidized breakfasts and lunches are often the only chance for students from financially challenged families to get the regular nutrition they need. Healthy food is far more expensive, and sadly harder to find in underserved areas, such as Harlem or the South Bronx for instance, where I spent much of my time.
Detractors will say this is yet another example of the government overreaching and infringing on our choices to eat what we want. However, this smart policy actually increases choice in my view, and finally provides a new option so many kids lack today. A healthy option.