Uncle Sam shouldn’t be food nanny

New rules ban most schools from selling certain foods in vending machines or bake sales. This should be a local and state decision.

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To be clear, we believe it is important for kids (as well as adults) to eat healthy and limit the amount of high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar foods.

But it is not the U.S. government’s role to serve as nanny, even for school kids.

Uncle Sam is banning the sale of foods determined to be unhealthy, whether in vending machines or at fundraising bake sales. Geez, at least Mary Poppins allowed a spoon full of sugar once in a while.

The Agriculture Department last week established the food guidelines going into affect in the 2014-2015 school year. The federal rules, ordered by Congress in 2010, put calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits on almost everything sold in about 100,000 schools that receive federal funds to help pay for lunches. That’s basically all public schools and half of the private schools.

Students, however, can still bring sack lunches from home. (No word, however, how the feds plan to keep a lid on black-market Fritos and M&M’s.

Whether it is wise to have burgers, pizza, candy bars and sports drinks sold at schools is certainly debatable. But that debate should not be in Congress, it should take place in state legislatures. Then local school boards should make the decision on how those policies will be implemented.

And, in fact, that is already happening. Thirty-nine states have some sort of snack food policy in place.

Local school boards, who answer directly to their communities, have a far better grasp of the situation in their schools and what types of foods the students will eat and won’t eat. They can implement policies seeking the consumption of high-calorie foods in moderation.

Beyond that, the federal government has no legal or constitutional authority over schools. The only way it can dictate calorie content is by withholding federal money sent to the various school districts for the lunches offered free or at a reduced cost to low-income families.

So if a school district balked at following the new federal rules would the free and reduced-cost lunches stop? Hard to say, but perhaps it will be tried.

These new rules are going to hurt the bottom line for local school districts.

The healthier foods are expensive, said Sandra Ford, president of the School Nutrition Association and director of food and nutrition services for a school district in Bradenton, Fla. She estimates her school district could lose $975,000 a year under the new “a la carte” guidelines because popular foods — pizza and burgers — would be eliminated.

Also, the Government Accountability Office — the investigative arm of Congress — found some districts’ students were having trouble adjusting to the healthier foods, leading to increased waste as fewer kids buy school lunches.

The federal government should back off.

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