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The New Normal: Less is Backwards

By Steve Stajich

Full Disclosure: I was a chubby kid, from about age 7 to 13. At that time, retail stores sold pants for boys who were “husky.” That term was deployed because any other synonym for the word “fat” might have negatively impacted blue jean sales. A husky boy could be healthy, but good-sized. And, you know, a little fat.

There was also diabetes in my family on my father’s side, although there was nowhere near the awareness of the disease setting-up shop early in kids that we have today. But it wasn’t fear of diabetes or even a general sense of my not being physically fit that finally caused me to jettison the extra weight I was carrying around. It was girls. As soon as I started having any interest in girls, it became imperative that the extra weight had to go.

Since those days, my weight has seen a few highs but has generally been stable. I’m currently pursuing a project where I would appear as on-camera talent, so I’m in the midst of a weight loss effort. It’s not much of a revelation to tell you that losing weight when you’re a kid seems much easier than getting it off as an adult, since almost everything that brings eating pleasure later in life is now verboten to me in reaching my new goal. “French fries, you and I are at war!”

All this explains why I was drawn to the announcement this week by brand-new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue that he intends to roll back part of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative for America’s school kids and lessen nutritional standards for school lunches. Purdue argues that schools and their food services are being challenged by meeting higher standards and his initial plan involves rolling back salt restrictions, letting schools serve fewer whole grains, and bumping non-fat milk for milk with 1 percent fat.

Years ago, President Ronald Reagan told a tale of a woman using food stamps to buy oranges and vodka during his efforts to cut back welfare. Patricia Montague of the School Nutrition Association, who appeared last week with Purdue, argued that “Some of our schools are actually using food waste as compost. That shouldn’t be happening.” This, after Purdue posited that “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition…”

Oh, my goodness. We gave the kids Michelle’s healthy meals; they didn’t eat them so we threw them out. Therefore let’s bring back the salt and the fat and white bread because we’ve got to make these meals “palatable” (Montague’s word). A visit to the School Nutrition Association’s website failed to make clear to me exactly who and what they represent.

It’s lunch food, but one should see a pattern emerging. We’ve got to give people their coal mining jobs back, so let’s go back to mining more coal even if every piece of research we have indicates that coal contributes to global warming and it’s a relic as a source of energy. We’ve set aside so much beautiful land for national parks and monuments that now we can’t even drill for the oil that lies underneath those acres. We’ve gotten so antsy about guns that we’re trampling the Second Amendment… and so on.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers what should be an alarming statistic: That the percentage of U.S. kids with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, when disco music at least kept many of us moving and sweating. As of 2011, one in three Americans was obese as were one in four Canadians. Let me throw out there that one culprit might be… the International House of Pancakes, fattening up both sides of the border.

Diabetes and long range physical and emotional problems for overweight children are no joke. And by now we all have awareness that for way too many children, meals served at schools can be the best meals those kids get all day. Hard-working parents, especially single parents, too often succumb to the temptation to bring home a pizza or some other drive-through dinner. In nutrition, we have a beautiful opportunity to improve young lives at the most basic level and to teach good eating habits that could literally lead to a longer lifetime of health.

But like so much U.S. policy in the last 100 days or so, we’re being asked to climb into the Wayback Machine and pretend we don’t know what we know. Additionally, there are too many people who view good government policy as too much government policy and this is resulting in a wave of decisions that, far from just turning back the clock, erase important gains toward brighter futures. The current administration would like to curb opioid addiction in young people, but put more salt on your kid’s lunch. The path to better national health shouldn’t be an insanely crooked line.

Steve Stajich, Columnist

in Opinion
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