Walking school buses. No, it’s not the name of the next Transformers sequel (sans Shia Lebouf). It’s the newest facet of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, (a portion of her overall goal of increasing wellness in the US) designed to combat childhood obesity. The First Lady recently began promoting a program for “walking school buses,” in which schools will be encouraged to chaperone children to school instead of allowing them to ride to school in the apparent obesity-causing school buses. Guess it’s time for Millennials to learn what it’s like to “walk 4 miles to school in 10 feet of snow, uphill both ways,” right?
Perhaps, but in all honesty, this isn’t the portion of the “Let’s Move” campaign I take issue with. Heck, if a school district wants to form a “walking school bus” system on their own in a way that’s both safe and convenient for kids, more power to them. Suggestions are not regulation and education is not red tape. However, I can’t voice my support (or rather, indifference) for the entirety of the “Let’s Move” campaign. While a portion of the First Lady’s pet project does consist of educating schools about proper nutrition and urging kids to become more active, it also has another side. The “Let’s Move” campaign additionally includes endless regulations and government control of everything from school lunches to menu calorie counts. And, what’s worse is that we’re paying for it. The National School Lunch program alone is partially funded by $11.6 billion in federal subsidies. Recession who?
If only that money actually, you know…did something. However, as is the case with much government spending these days, much of the effort and funding behind the campaign has gone to waste. According to the Government Accountability Office, the National School Lunch Program (passed in 1946, but updated as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign) has often done more harm than good in recent months. Meat, grain, and calorie restrictions have let to smaller school lunch portion sizes, and by extension, unhappy kids. Children in schools which house more than one grade level are all subject to the same restrictions. Thus, in some schools 8th graders are under the same calorie restrictions as 2nd graders. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, a sandwich, apple and juice box didn’t go very far to fill me up. And don’t forget athletes who, despite their increased physical activity, are still required to eat the same number of calories as their lesser-active peers. Looks like the campaign to end childhood obesity has resulted in a bunch of starving kids. Unlike Snuggies, when it comes to school lunches, one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
Outside school walls, the increased government dabbling in nutrition hasn’t fared much better. There has been a large push recently for increased calorie counts on menus, which, theoretically, are supposed to prompt consumers to eat less. However, unless you’re like me and have made the personal choice to eat healthier, these counts do little to curb overeating. In a study conducted by the NYU School of Medicine, researchers found that while teenagers (the demographic covered in the study) did notice the nutritional information, only 9% stated they made healthier choices after learning of the nutritional content in their meals. The same study found that taste, not nutrition, was the key factor in the teenagers’ decisions. Duh.
While I don’t mind the government having a say in the nutrition industry (we do want to be sure we’re not all eating pink slime after all), massive government expenditures and regulations are not keys to shrinking America’s collective waistline. To do that, you have to shrink the government. How many people, after losing 100 pounds, have credited the government with their success? Can you imagine someone on The Biggest Loser claiming that they wouldn’t have lost half their body weight without calorie-restricted school lunches or calorie counts on a Starbucks menu?
Weight loss isn’t something that can be mandated by the federal government. It takes individual effort and motivation to change your lifestyle, not government regulation. The “trigger” for weight loss should be a personal choice, not government control. Perceptions and trends of weight are cultural, not political. You want to make a healthy change? Then change yourself. Eat healthier and become active if you are not already. Encourage those around you to do the same and create a ripple effect. This is an instance where great change really does begin at the dinner table. Literally.