Are nutrition rules for schools and day-care centers too much regulation, or steps in the right direction, toward better health?

Commentary by Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The Paducah Sun’s editorial on Jan. 20 said the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds by expecting child day-care centers to follow stricter nutrition standards. The newspaper also called for relaxation of the requirements of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, as Republicans hope to to when the law comes up for reauthorization this year. (The editorial is behind a paywall.)

The editorial does what any good editorial should do: stirs up a bit of controversy and makes you think a bit harder. Do you agree with the editorial’s views that these nutrition standards impose “too much regulation,” or are you thinking,”We have to try something to combat obesity and the best place to change health behaviors is with children?”

What most everyone probably agrees on is that we have a problem: too many fat, unhealthy children who will become fat, unhealthy adults, perpetuating a chronic health epidemic that is sweeping across Kentucky and the nation. “The heaviest children are getting even heavier” and “overweight or obese preschoolers are five times more likely than normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults,” says the Obesity Society website.

Nationwide, one in five children is overweight and more than one in three adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky leads the nation in both adult and child obesity, ranking fifth for adult obesity; first for high-school obesity; eighth in obesity of 10- to 17-year-olds; and sixth in obesity among 2- to 4-year-olds in low-income families, according to the States of Obesity report. These statistics don’t even include the number of adults or children who are simply “overweight.”

The World Health Organization says chronic disease is the leading killer in our world, with two-thirds of all deaths worldwide a result of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections in 2012. Kentucky, once again, leads the way in each of these conditions.

Kentucky ranks eighth in the nation for heart-disease deaths; 17th for diabetes; fifth for high blood pressure; and first for smoking, lung cancer and lung cancer deaths.

The editorial says, “The food police are on the march again.” Is it too much regulation, or could these “police” represent a concerned government trying to solve a major health-crisis that is only getting worse?

In making the day-care proposal, Agricuture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon wrote, “Providing children access to nutritious food early in life helps instill healthy habits that can serve as a foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices.”

The Department of Agriculture proposal calls for new nutritional guidelines for child and adult day-care programs, after-school programs and people who live in shelters that are part of USDA’s Child and Adult Day Care Food Programs.

The guidelines would follow the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act guidelines followed in schools, which require more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less fat and sugar, and limit calories according to age.

What seems to aggravate Sun Editor Jim Paxton the most are the proposal’s suggestions to ban on-site frying and the qualification of tofu, a soybean curd, as a meat alternative. It said that while the program was originally set up to combat malnutrition, it now has decided “a little starvation is not a bad thing; ergo, tofu instead of fried chicken.”

The editorial suggests that day-care facilities could no longer have french fries or fried chicken, but it fails to mention that both items could be offered with a more healthful preparation in the oven. And tofu, a cheap, low-fat protein source, would be added as an option, not a requirement.

The recommended way to lose weight is to decrease calories, eat healthful foods, and increase activity. The nutritional requirements suggested in this program include two of these efforts.

The editorial reminds us that some students are “turning up their noses at the new offerings,” that “student participation in school meal programs is down,” and says pre-school programs are concerned that the same thing will happen to them.

However, schools say they are tweaking their menus to find healthful foods that the kids like and purchase newer whole grain products that don’t taste any different than the processed grains the kids are used to.

So, is it too much regulation or a new way to improve the health of children that will take time and tweaks to perfect?

The editorial says the Sun supports nutrition education and healthy choices on the school menu, but that the “primary responsibility for combating childhood obesity lies with parents and the rules they set in the home.”

But what the editor fails to consider is that one out of three adults, many whom are parents, are obese, and are the ones responsible for teaching these lessons.

Too much regulation or a step in the right direction? You decide.

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