Childhood Obesity and
Lunchbox Privacy

The food police go to school -- with counterproductive results.


Among adherents of the nanny state, it’s no longer enough to require schools to provide healthy meals for kids. Now schools are making sure parents do too.

Recent news articles out of Great Britain reveal that staff members in a Gloucestershire school district have become a food-police force. They were secretly opening children’s lunchboxes and photographing the contents. They then scored the various lunches for nutritional value and sent notes to the parents advising them on how to pack healthier meals. Their one concession to the Englishman’s cherished privacy was that they didn’t identify which child each photographed lunch belonged to.

One might think of this as just another wacky Big Brother anecdote coming out of Europe. But the truth is, food police are already active in American public schools, and it likely won’t be long before they start snooping into our kids’ lunchboxes. No doubt any child caught with Twinkies, Ho Hos, or Ding Dongs will be sent home immediately, with a note advising his parents on how to provide better meals.

Personally, I look forward to that terse note from some self-important school official warning me that the wheat crackers in my son’s Spider-Man lunchbox have “trans fats,” or that I failed to provide enough vegetables. I’ll welcome the school official’s verdict on that sweet treat I included for my little guy (is it okay if it’s made with chick-pea flour and organic blueberries that were grown locally and harvested under fair labor practices?).

Even some government officials understand the potential problems with this kind of government meddling. Andrew Lansley, the new British health secretary, recently took on celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s much-ballyhooed school-lunch-reform crusade. Lansley said:

If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve.

Jamie Oliver, quite rightly, was talking about trying to improve the diet of children in schools and improving school meals, but the net effect was the number of children eating school meals in many of these places didn’t go up, it went down.

So then the schools said: “It’s okay to bring packed lunches but we’ve got to determine what’s in the packed lunches . . . ”

To which the parents’ response was that they gave children money, and children are actually spending more money outside school, buying snacks in local shops, instead of on school lunches.

Lansley is spot on, but he has been lambasted for daring to criticize Oliver, who has become the standard-bearer (both in the U.K. and here) in the battle against childhood obesity. One editorial writer in London called Lansley’s criticism a “fearful error”; another called it a “huge mistake”; and one went so far as to suggested Lansley had “taken leave of his senses.” Even Prime Minister David Cameron has abandoned his health secretary, lauding Oliver for the positive impact he has had on British schoolchildren.


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