Former Commissioner Dennis Linthicum

Nov 4, 2011 — by: Commissioner Linthicum

First, I would like to thank the author that used the pen name, B. Franklin, for his/her article last week. If you haven't read it, the article was regarding a school lunch commentary that appeared in the Herald & News. I thought this article was a fine soapbox to stand on, but in weighing its importance, I figured there must be bigger fish to fry.

My November, 2011 copy of School Reform News just arrived and it has an article entitled, “School Lunches Free for All by 2015 If Districts Choose.” Now, I see that Franklin popped the lid off a #10 can of government obesity because the story begins with,

"Michigan, Kentucky, and Illinois will offer federal-government sponsored free-for-all breakfasts and lunches to students attending participating public schools this fall. Four more states will participate each year until 2014, when all states must allow districts to opt in to a federal program requiring all students at a participating school to eat taxpayer-funded school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks at no cost to any student, regardless of individual students’ ability to bring or pay for their food."

Apparently, policy-makers have removed “real need”, “apparent need”, “ability to pay”, and “low-income status” from the discussion. So then, “Why does this program exist?” Isn’t it for, “providing to those in our society who are most needy?”

Or, maybe this billion dollar program is promoting the health and welfare of our children? No, that's apparently not the right answer either.

There is a battery of evidence that suggests our children are not becoming healthier even as our wallets become lighter. The many studies completed over the past couple of decades record the results:

"The figures on obesity are startling. According to national survey data, the number of overweight children has quadrupled since 1960, jumping from 4 percent of the youth population to 16 percent in 2002 (see Figure 2). And several studies show that the incidence of obesity is greatest among poor children. Obesity has both health and social consequences for children, but it also imposes substantial costs on society. Increased risk of diabetes, heart attack, hypertension, kidney failure, gallstones, arthritis, and several types of cancer are all associated with obesity. The surgeon general has estimated that the economic cost of obesity in 2000 was $117 billion."

The difference in height equals 2% while the increase in weight is nearly 20%. In round numbers that's a ten-fold difference. This is the tragedy of American compassion. In our attempt to be kind and generous, we have devised a political machine to do our work. However, just like the science-fiction thriller, the machine is now running the show.

The solution to our country’s child-nutrition problems can’t be found in any federally funded child-meal program. The only real solution is to encourage parents to take greater control of their children and what their children eat. A sound strategy for individual, small-scale personal involvement must replace the false comfort that comes from our large-scale, government-administered relief efforts.


 More information can be found in the report by Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in his 2005 article, The School Lunch Lobby.

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Commissioner Dennis Linthicum

For current postings by Dennis Linthicum, visit the Dirt Road Economist website.

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