It's been a rough, scary year: Home prices still falling, unemployment rising, national debt soaring to heights unknown; North Korea rattling sabers; and Iran stockpiling plutonium. But we're thinking ahead: Whatever future our children face, they don't have to face it fat.
Last week the House of Representatives passed its version of the Child Nutrition Act (the Senate version passed unanimously in August), which was championed by the first lady. Headed for the president's desk is a blueprint for slim and trim progeny, though at 250-plus pages, the adjusted bill could stand to lose a few pounds. The subheadings include "Nutrition requirements for fluid milk," "Support for breastfeeding in the WIC program," "Green cafeterias pilot program," and, of course, "Fines for violating program requirements." Plus much, much more.
The legislation will give schools a minimum of $4.5 billion over the next 10 years in order to increase the number of eligible children and mandate healthier food choices-not only for lunch and breakfast but also for PTO carnivals and other fund-raising events. (No more cupcake walks?) Families in some states will qualify for year-round school cafeteria meals. For families who don't qualify for the free program, lunch prices will go up.
The House bill lagged behind the Senate bill for deficit reasons: In order to scrape up more billions, lawmakers had to "make it up" elsewhere. The money was supposedly found by "cutting" food stamps, leading to ironic commentary on the left and the right about Michelle Obama stealing lunch money from the poor. Not to worry, though: Her husband has promised to restore those "cuts."
Of course, it would be hard to find anyone opposed to healthy kids. But it's equally hard to find a healthy kid who was raised by federal subsidies. Parents have no more basic responsibility than feeding their own children. It's true that too many parents fail even at this low level, and always have-but I suspect there are more now than in 1966, when school lunches were first funded at the federal level. Childhood obesity was not a problem then, and more mothers (or fathers) were home cooking on the stove. Coincidence?
There's no causal arrow from free lunches to parental neglect, but there are meandering trails. The more someone does for you, the less you'll do for yourself. And the more distant and impersonal the benefactor, the less you will feel obliged.