Chris Koger, news editor
Chris Koger, news editor

In the U.S., we take our freedom seriously. When it comes to what we eat, we take freedom very seriously. The idea that someone or a group — especially the government — can tell us what we can or can’t eat goes against our nature. Efforts to get Americans to eat better are rebuffed with cries of “nanny state!”

When The Packer writes about the wrangling over increased fruit and vegetable servings in school meals, indignant readers comment about how the government has no right to decide what children are served in school lunches.

Sorry to say, the National School Lunch Act, which turns 70 next year, gives the government not only the right but the mandate to dictate what students eat, based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Other countries have tried similar programs to curb unhealthy eating. There’s an 8% tax on sugary/fat food in Mexico; in the first seven months of 2014, tax revenue there jumped 46%, according to www.panampost.com.

But I imagine a proposed law in Puerto Rico would make parents completely apoplectic, and rightfully so.

The law would turn public school teachers into obesity monitors, flagging children who are overweight. The parents of these children would be referred to the health department to come up with a plan for the child to lose weight, including checkups with health officials.

Six months later, it’s time to assess whether the family has been serious and the weight loss has been successful. A failure sends the case to child-family services, and fines of up to $800 could be levied.

Health organizations across the globe are against this proposed law. Losing weight can’t be forced, and causes of obesity are complex, including genetics.

There’s a strong case for increased public education, and school and health officials do have opportunities to make a dent in the obesity epidemic. The produce industry has a role as well, and supporting the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program is a step in that direction. Government programs encouraging farm-to-school programs have also made some strong supply partnerships.

Educate and encourage, don’t legislate, for an effective message to children on healthy eating.

ckoger@thepacker.com

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