EDITORIAL: Fat chance child menu study affects obesity

The nanny state never rests. It always finds ways to spend taxpayer money on projects that ignore reality while embracing wishful thinking.

The latest effort comes via the National Institutes of Health, which earlier this month awarded a $224,250 grant to San Diego State University to study how to introduce healthier child menus at restaurants and alter kids’ “ordering behavior.” The study, targeted primarily at Latino children, will first observe children’s “menu ordering and consumption behaviors” in 12 restaurants, then initiate the “restaurant-based intervention.”

Unless this “intervention” involves an intravenous needle or a feeding tube, it won’t get kids to eat nanny state-approved foods. The folks at NIH apparently aren’t aware that the country already has tried these types of “interventions” at great expense at public schools, via the $11 billion National School Lunch Program instituted just last year. The Associated Press reported that some school systems dropped out of the program because students didn’t purchase the healthier offerings, cafeterias lost money and tons of food ended up in trash cans.

School districts rejected the program, according to the AP report, because federal reimbursements weren’t enough to offset the losses that resulted from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry. One upstate New York school district finished last school year $100,000 in the red, and another lost $30,000 in the first three months of the program.

The obesity issue goes far beyond what kids eat at restaurants — fast food or otherwise. What children eat at home, how much time they spend in front of the TV and playing with electronic gadgets, and whether they get outside to play are critical factors in juvenile health.

There is no doubt that childhood obesity is a concern, and that it can lead to lifelong health problems. But when it comes to kids ordering restaurant meals, the rest of their diet and their physical activity, parents have ultimate responsibility. Children are not the property of the state, and the government needs to dial back its efforts to become the all-knowing arbiter of what’s good and bad for kids — especially when so many other government policies are in conflict with anti-obesity initiatives, from farm subsidies to the expansion of food stamp benefits into the middle class.

Expensive, feel-good programs inevitably lead to a larger, more intrusive government. The slippery slope of obesity prevention leads to government intervention in child rearing and potential child abuse charges against the parents of chubby kids. No one wants that.

Eating out is an exercise in choice. People won’t pay a premium for convenience on foods they don’t want to eat. Period.

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