Nanny State fiasco at L.A. Unified: Lunch is like ‘dog food’

Nanny Staters are typically oblivious to how the world works. They are also bafflingly confident that people like being bullied, implored or required to live their lives in a way Nanny Staters approve. That’s why I so enjoyed seeing my views reaffirmed in this L.A. Times story about the student revolt in defense of “junk food” and against the public health establishment, the most powerful wing of the Nanny State:

It’s lunchtime at Van Nuys High School and students stream into the cafeteria to check out the day’s fare: black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other items on a new healthful menu introduced this year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don’t even bother to line up. Iraides said the school food previously made her throw up, and Mayra calls it “nasty, rotty stuff.” So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks. ….

For many students, L.A. Unified’s trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles. ….

“It’s nasty, nasty,” said Andre, a member of InnerCity Struggle, an East L.A. nonprofit working to improve school lunch access and quality. …. “Like dog food,” said Christian Campus, 14, adding that he and his football teammates eat the lunches only to sustain them through practice.

It’s appalling that sometimes this food trendiness goes to such quasi-religious extremes that it has a body count. What’s also appalling is that it is often not driven by hard facts but by fashion and barely hidden vanity — I’m thin, therefore I have a superior character to those who aren’t. It’s also driven by a desire for control:

Modern “public-health” initiatives have moved well beyond what could reasonably be classified as public goods. Today, government undertakes all sorts of policies in the name of public health that are aimed at regulating personal behavior. It began in the 1970s and 1980s with anti-smoking initiatives and today includes a wide range of programs, including efforts aimed at reducing alcohol consumption, encouraging seatbelt and motorcycle helmet use, regulating diet and lifestyle in the name of curbing obesity, federalizing local issues like speed limits and the minimum drinking age, and generally using the power of the state to regulate away lifestyle risk.

And as I wrote above, the sick thing is this statist assault on individual freedom can’t be justified by the numbers. Sure, childhood obesity and diabetes are a real worry, but sweeping, alarmist claims about adult obesity and many other public health issues are often essentially made up:

Empirical data strongly suggests that despite claims from the public health alarmists that obesity, smoking, alcoholism, and any other number of ailments are wreaking a health care catastrophe in America, America is actually healthier than it’s ever been.

Life expectancy in the United States reached an all-time high last year. Americans at every age can expect to live longer than ever before. The gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites is closing, too. Heart disease is in sharp decline since the early 1990s, as is stroke. Deaths from and incidence of cancer are also in retreat, including all but one of the 10 types of cancer most associated with obesity. The absolute number of deaths due to cancer also fell by 50,000 in 2004, a remarkable feat considering that America’s population continues to grow. Yet these heartening trends have persisted despite the fact that, over the same period, many Americans have put on weight. Certainly, advances in medical technology, improvements in screening and treating diseases, and miracle drugs like statins deserve much of the credit (though it’s worth pointing out that many of the same public health groups oppose the very free market aspects of U.S. health care that made these advances possible). No one would argue that excessive obesity is something to strive for. But if America’s thickening waistline really were the looming disaster it’s made out to be, we should at least be seeing the early signs of the cataclysm. That hasn’t happened.

Both excerpts are from this superb essay by Radley Balko.

Why the animus, Chris? Isn’t the public health establishment’s heart in the right place?

Sorry, often that’s just not true. Lying to the public for what some elites somewhere think is for our own good — or to build bureaucratic empires — or to try to manipulate public perception — are all indefensible. That’s what we have seen over and over again from the public health establishment since at least the mid-1980s, especially on obesity.

The results can be tragic. I think one reason so many parents are ignoring the vast evidence that childhood immunizations are vitally important to societal health is because they’ve been lied to by the people advocating them. Great, just great.

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