The New York Times reported positive news this week in the decade-long quest to make America's children healthier. 10 years after the enactment of No Children with Large Behinds (NCLB), the latest measurements showed that some New York City children showed weight loss of nearly a pound. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, clearly enchanted by the success of his leadership, suggested the children celebrate his great achievement. "Let them eat cake!" he proclaimed, perhaps somewhat missing the point, but showing his keen sense of humor.
This good news will surely fuel ongoing political support for NCLB's new iteration, Remove Tons and Tons of Pounds (RTTop), a White House initiative guaranteed to continue the all-important regimen of regular weight measurement. Responding to criticism that weighing children more frequently does not actually help them lose weight or make them healthier, the Obama administration's weight loss czar Arne Duncan retorted, "Well, I don't know what else to do. I'm not a nutritionist."
This good news was muted somewhat by the work still to be done. In 2009, America's children seemed well on the way to the Bush administration's admirable goal of 100 percent leanness by 2014. On closer examination it was determined that McGraw Hill, and other companies that built scales, and the federal officials who helped prepare children for regular weigh-ins had recalibrated millions of scales, confusing kilograms with pounds, therefore dramatically understating the actual weights of children. When accounting for this recalibration, officials discovered that America's children actually weighed slightly more in 2009 than in 2003.
When questioned by eminent historian Diane Ravitch about the efficacy of the program, given the startling evaporation of previously claimed success, Duncan responded that a group of Stanford economists, funded by a grant from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, were reinterpreting the data. When this work is done, he promised, there will be videotapes produced and an online module developed for the rapidly growing Cook for America program, in which un- or underemployed college graduates are given several weeks of highly regimented training as line cooks.
Most of these newly minted cooks are destined to serve poor communities of color (where obesity remains frustratingly intractable). As Gates and others have astutely pointed out, "We don't really need a bunch of overpaid, overrated chefs preparing fancy cuisine. Kids just need the basics, and lots of it. Any bright young cook, equipped with a few recipes, can feed thousands as long as the children have laptops and Microsoft software to help them read the menu." Davis Guggenheim, director of the highly acclaimed documentary film Waiting for Supperman, which chronicled the culinary mishaps of a few chubby kids in Harlem, added, "Yeah, that's right. What he said."
This month, realizing that the federal goal of 100 percent leanness was unattainable by 2014, Duncan made the unprecedented decision to allow states to apply for waivers granting relief from federal standards as long as they maintain a "high bar" for accountability. Congressional Republicans, particularly Tea Party freshmen, were nearly apoplectic, claiming, "How dare you reduce the power of the federal government!!"
"The idea that waivers are being used to circumvent Congress doesn't sit well, especially when the waivers are likely to create an even heavier top-down approach than what's already in place," said California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, apparently missing the deep irony of his word choice.
In a related story, the ongoing scandal in Atlanta escalated when investigators looking into potential cheating noticed that almost all 6th grade children in Atlanta weighed exactly 104 pounds, raising questions about the validity of the measurements and the integrity of the adults who administer the weight loss program. The investigators' report concluded that Atlanta officials "put unreasonable pressure on adults to achieve weight targets. A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation spread through the system, leading administrators to falsify records in order to meet federal and state expectations." When asked why no one noticed that a 194 pound 6th grader had been reported as 104 pounds, an Atlanta official responded, "We don't actually look at the children, we just weigh them."
In other news from the front lines of the obesity wars, continuing a great Texas tradition, Governor (and likely presidential candidate) Rick Perry convened a massive prayer rally, attended by more than 30,000 enthusiastic Christians. Perry urged the crowd to pray for the children to lose weight as his aides distributed certificates for free McDonalds Happy Meals to each family, accompanied by a précis of his campaign's new dietary guidelines, cleverly titled, "What Would Jesus Cook?"
In Washington D.C. a group of disgruntled parents, chefs, nutritionists and pediatricians (under the banner of a counter-cultural organization called SOS) met in a rally to protest the culture of constant measurement and to make a national plea for a return to a sensible diet, recommending a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables accompanied by more time for active play.
Among the speakers was actor Matt Damon, who passionately argued that his well-chiseled physique came not from bland, monotonous, carbohydrate-heavy institutional meals and regular weighing, but from having been exposed early in life to fine cooking, seasonal fruits and vegetables from local organic farms and a rich variety of wholesome grains. He was also taught the joy of cooking by his mother Nancy, who is a master gardener and Michelin-rated chef. Responding to a CNN report on the rally and asked to comment on Damon's speech, a spokesperson for Michele Bachmann's campaign said, "We all know that Matt Damon is a socialist."
Sarah Palin, when reached by telephone from her Arizona home/headquarters, commented, "Also, how's that hopey, changey thing going?"