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GOP School Lunch Plan: Less Knowledge, More French Fries

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SCHOOL LUNCHES FOR PROFIT
AP

Meet the next target of the "all-regulation-is-bad" crowd: school lunches.

Our children face a devastating obesity crisis -- and yet some Washington lawmakers are calling even the most commonsense moves to ensure them a healthier diet a "classic nanny-state overreach."

Really? Let's look at what these simple, straightforward federal efforts actually do.

For instance, the first meaningful overhaul of school nutrition guidelines in 15 years would cut sodium in subsidized lunches by more than half, encourage more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to a single cup of starchy vegetables (read: French fries) per week. Is that terrible?

But that's not the only part of the Michelle Obama-backed healthy food movement that offends these regulation foes.

The very same politicians who have made a career of calling for a free and open marketplace of ideas want to limit the amount of information kids (and parents) can get about their food. Calorie counts on menus have been a proven boon for families who want to cut out hidden fat, sugar and salt from their diet -- but Republican lawmakers say that providing even this basic information on menus and at food stores is "back-door regulation."

This argument isn't just fodder for political shouting matches in Washington, though. These efforts have real consequences for the millions of children facing obesity and obesity-related diseases.

Today, one in six American kids is obese, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity. And the problem is getting worse.

In the past three decades, the obesity rate among teenagers (aged 12-19) has more than tripled (from 4.9% to 18.1%). The rise is even visible among the very young. During that same time period, obesity rates have doubled among kids aged 2 to 5 (from 5% to 10.4%).

The long-term health consequences of this crisis are real, too. Researchers estimate that one out of every three boys and two out of every five girls born in the United States in the year 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes. More than 100,000 children suffer from asthma every year because of their weight. And if current adolescent obesity rates continue, by 2035 there will be more than 100,000 additional cases of coronary heart disease attributable to obesity.

The crisis is real -- and we need to get serious about dealing with it. But we won't make any progress if Washington politicians continue their kneejerk reactions to even the most reasonable and scientifically sound new federal rules.