Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Something to Chew On

According to The Week:

A South African man was savagely chewed to death by a 2,400-pound hippopotamus he kept as a pet.  “Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human,” Marius Els, 40, had insisted.

If our childhood obesity epidemic continues unabated, there may well be more sad stories like this one.  American children, kept as pets, savagely chewing their parents could be the latest media driven fear, overtaking unclean toilet seats, friendly youth coaches and killer bees.

Don’t think it could happen?  The Republicans in the House are exercising their Constitutional right to be short-sighted, and are blocking reasonable moves that could protect all Americans from being gummed in the future.  Last week, the GOP prevented a change in the national school lunch program that would have added fruits and vegetables to the menu while cutting French fries and pizza.  House Republicans described the proposed change from fattening foods to healthy foods as “overly burdensome and costly regulations”, while potato grower and tomato sauce producer lobbyists described the proposed change as “socialism and anti-potato and tomato sauce worker”.

It is true that taxpayers would have seen a $6.8 billion higher price tag for school lunches over a five year period.  What is not noted by opponents of the new menu is that obesity in this country costs the United States $148 billion annually.  That’s according to that biased bastion of blatant liberalism, the Center for Disease Control, with their fancy scientists and controlled “experiments”.  If future cases of diabetes are reduced by a percentage point thanks to better school lunch options, $6.8 billion will look like a heck of a bargain.
Saving pounds now can save lives, and money, later.  Obesity is not solely an individual problem without a broader societal impact.  Obesity is not solely an individual problem that does not cross state lines.  I am not arguing for the mandatory feeding of apples and brussels sprouts by government officials to young children.  I am not advocating that Twinkles be banned from the checkout counter at 7-11.  I am questioning why replacing foods of lesser health value at public schools with foods of a greater health value is controversial.  Healthier kids could reduce the long term deficit, as well as a few waistlines along the way, and I think we should support that idea in a bipartisan way.
Could eating fruits and vegetables instead of French fries and pizza help reduce the number of overweight Americans and the associated health risks in this country?  Yes, I think it could.  If I am correct, the increased cost of bananas and pears could actually save money for this country over time.  Of course, that would require taking a longer view, something that near-sighted Congresspeople cannot grasp, or effectively sell to their constituents.

I should not blame all Congressional representatives for being near-sighted on this issue.  It is not their fault that they are near-sighted.  The corporate interests that support potato growers and tomato sauce producers hid their corrective lenses under piles of money.  You see, the move away from French fries and pizza was fought by the American Frozen Food Institute.  This group had a singular interest – their member's profitability.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Let freedom ring.  The problem is more that our elected officials didn’t weigh the evidence, look at the pros and cons of replacing fries with fruits, and then do what is best for the country in the long run.  Helping address a long term national problem might work against their reelection in the short run, and then they couldn’t remain in power to protect us from socialism.  Chew on that.

(The change in menu was supported by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, along with Mission Readiness, a group of retired generals trying to fight obesity that has hurt military recruiting, and of course, the USDA)

Some opponents of the measure make the argument that the government shouldn’t tell us what to eat.  “If parents want their kids to eat pizza and fries every day at lunch, so be it.”  Let freedom ring.  The argument is counterintuitive because serving the aforementioned pizza and fries isn’t that telling the captive schoolhouse kids what to eat.   If parents want kids to eat fruits and vegetables, then pack their lunch with these healthy choices, right?  How about instead – if parents want their kids to eat unhealthy choices, why don’t they pack their lunch?  Under this menu change, no one would be forcing the kids to eat broccoli at gunpoint (although I should note that some GOP legislators support the right of educators to carry a concealed weapon in school).  Eat what you want, people, but is it so bad to offer more fruits and vegetables during the school day?

Voters and Parents, it is better to watch your children grow up than to watch them grow out.  Let’s face that the financial and societal impact of childhood obesity left unchecked will eventually swallow us all.  A few healthier choices at lunch will not bring capitalism to its knees, or cause irreparable economic harm.  So the next time little cherubic Johnny tries to bite your finger, think about poor Marius Els, who thought little Humphrey was just like a human up until that moment when his delusion bit him in the butt.

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