In Washington, DC—and some state capitals as well—special interest politics have a way of grinding down good ideas. This almost happened to the Affordable Care Act, and it could happen to a less well known but highly important law—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
That bill, passed in 2010, set new nutritional standards for school lunch programs, which had been way too heavy on sugary snacks and salty, fatty foods. The idea was to put nutritional meals of fresh fruits and vegetables on the lunch table for our kids, improving their health in the short run and teaching them in the long run to value healthy food and make it part of their diets at all meals.
The USDA implemented this law with improved standards, and as detailed in a recent New York Times article, special interest groups, such as producers of frozen pizzas and French fries, fought back hard. Borrowing a page from the opponents of Obamacare, who seized upon flaws with the health care website to call for the law’s repeal, the processed food industry used isolated stories of growing pains with the new school lunch rules to cast them as unworkable, even though ninety percent of school districts have implemented them successfully.
These opponents have cultivated supporters in Congress who seem bent on undoing this progress, ironically through the vehicle of the Child Nutrition Act, which is likely to be voted on next year.
How do we fight back? With a clear and simple message that cuts through the clutter and disinformation.
Here is a great example: UCS’ new infographic, “For American Children, Every Day is Halloween.” The graphic displays the shocking fact that American kids between the ages of 2-19 eat the sugar equivalent of about 14-18 Halloween-size candy bars per day. That’s about 29 teaspoons of sugar!
Why is this information so important? Because it highlights how significant this upcoming fight over school lunches is. Our kids are dramatically over-consuming sugar, taking in five times more than recommended by US dietary guidelines, putting themselves at risk of developing diseases, like diabetes, in adulthood. We have to find a way to cut sugar intake. And while government isn’t going to outlaw candy bars, at least it can use taxpayer dollars wisely by serving lunches that expose kids to healthier foods.
So what do I find really scary this Halloween? Not the vampires and ghouls I’ll see trick or treating around my neighborhood, but the special interest lobbies prowling in DC, and their allies in Congress, who are trying to stop this law before it’s even had time to work.
Correction: The original text stated “tablespoons” instead of “teaspoons.” This has been corrected.
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