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No Fat Kids!

Michelle Obama's misguided war on childhood obesity

David Harsanyi
April 7, 2010

No offense, but the next time I hear Michelle Obama lecture me about feeding kids locally farmed kumquats, I'll be forced to pile my family into an SUV and hit the Burger King drive-through just to snap my psyche back into proper equilibrium.

As hard as I try, there is no evading the first lady's maternal gaze—or her magic organic vegetable garden—these past few weeks as she zigzags the media landscape talking about her anti-childhood-obesity campaign, Let's Move.

Who better to offer guidance on lifestyle choices than politicians and their charming spouses? Washington is, after all, pooling $1 trillion to pay for the nation's health care needs. Isn't it only fair that someone started harassing kids who are too stout to pull their weight?

And if Washington can't dictate calorie counts in school vending machines or tax soda pop or force elementary schools in Topeka to stock their cupboards with USDA-approved nutritional fare, then, really, why do we have a federal government in the first place?

As we speak, legislation is wiggling through Congress that would ban candy and sugary beverages in schools—bake sales, a la carte lunches, Halloween goodies, birthday cupcakes—and stipulate that suitable chow be offered. It's legislation that can't be stopped. It's for the children.

Michelle Obama—no doubt driven by the best of intentions—went on to take food manufacturers to task, asking them to "rethink the products" they produce, because business, apparently, should be a clearinghouse for ethically sound groceries rather than a place that manufactures frozen pizza.

The first lady says there is a lack of "accessibility and affordability," as so many Americans reside in "nutritional wastelands" found in urban and rural areas (the latter, one gathers, filled with farms), with no access to supermarkets. "Some 23.5 million Americans—including 6.5 million children—currently live in food deserts," claims the Let's Move site.

This fantasy quickly evaporates when one learns that the average American spends a mere 7 percent of his or her annual income on food (the lowest percentage in the world). That average person has an amazingly rich and diverse array of nutritious foods from which to choose. In addition, it turns out that there are very few "food deserts" in states that have the highest levels of obesity in the nation.

This week, I sat down in an editorial board meeting with Kevin Concannon—USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services—a friendly and well-spoken authoritarian who effortlessly dismissed the idea of local parental and school control over kids. The problem is just too big, he explained.

Concannon did, however, speak enthusiastically about one day banning commercials that the administration finds are simply inappropriate for kids to be watching, such as cereal ads. Too flashy. Too much sugar.

But he can't do it alone. In a recent meeting with Cabinet members and congressional leaders, Michelle Obama said, "It's going to require us working together—not just the administration but Congress, governors, mayors, parents, teachers."

You see, it's not just the administration that has a responsibility to tend to your children's nutrition. Parents also are going to have to play a role—after, you know, Congress, governors, and mayors.

It seems, in fact, that in the fight against obesity, we pin the blame on every bugaboo available except the one that deserves the responsibility.

Who knows, maybe it's parents—not the Fruit Loops toucan or vending machines or corporate greed or even a lack of laws—who hook kids on insalubrious foods.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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