Let Them Eat Cake…or not?

No more “Donut Day” at school…

Massachusetts recently passed a law banning all sorts of foods that aren’t considered “nutritional” from being sold, given out, or exchanged starting from 30 minutes before the school day to 30 minutes after the end of the day. The law’s proponents cite the rising child obesity statistics, arguing that this law promotes healthiness: “This is a major public health problem and these kids deserve a chance at a good, long healthy life,” says Sen. Susan Fargo (D-MA).

At first glance, the law seems like a good way to solve a national problem. However, there are a number of issues with this law that must be considered again. Check out some of the biggest criticisms…

Perhaps one of the biggest issues with the law is the curtailing of freedom. Where in the Constitution does the government have a right to control what foods are exchanged in any event associated with a school? Sure, the Preamble says “promote the general welfare”, but I associate “promoting welfare” with government programs advocating healthy eating. (i.e. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign) This law does more than “promote the general welfare” in my opinion. It attempts to force and control the “general welfare” by deciding what is healthy and what is not.

The Massachusetts law is not an isolated incident. The federal government has sponsored numerous laws regulating and promoting nutrition. The FDA requires specific nutrition labeling standards, and ObamaCare included new requirements for all vending machines and restaurants with over 20 locations to post calorie content information on menus and menu boards.

The biggest question, in my opinion, is not related to the government’s right to control whether schools have bake sales. I do not think the government has that right, but I could see someone arguing the fact that public schools are under the government’s control. The more pressing issue to me is assuming that obesity is a problem of oppression.

When Sen. Fargo said, “these kids deserve a chance at a good, long healthy life,” she is implying that these kids had “no chance”. She is arguing that the reason so many kids are obese is not because of their choices or their parents’ decisions. She is arguing that bake sales, candy, soda machines, and “donut days” at schools are providing an environment where kids “don’t have a chance at a healthy life.” In effect, she argues that it is the fault of these bake sales that kids are obese. I disagree. Regardless of the atmosphere, kids are still able to choose what they eat.

In my opinion, there will always be temptations. “Junk food” will never go away. I believe the role of government is to encourage parents to teach valuable lessons (such as avoiding these foods), rather than pointlessly attempting to eliminate all the temptations in the country.

What do you think? Does this help solve childhood obesity? Does the government have the right to make this law?

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20 responses to “Let Them Eat Cake…or not?

  1. Pingback: Justice Roberts on Commerce and Taxes « Consider Again·

  2. Great discussion here. Interestingly, our children attend a private school and a couple years ago all the soft drink vending machines were removed and nutritional juice machines were added – which no kids were interested in, especially at twice the price of soda.

    I’m guessing this was a school board decision — and I could see not wanting to ‘promote’ soft drinks. And some kids were drinking way too much each day. But I wonder if the decision makers were unable to get their daily coffee each day (since caffeine is bad for you and the sugar/cream you put in it is bad too), whether they would have thought twice. Perhaps they feel high school kids cannot make their own decisions. I would disagree, but if certain ones are making bad decisions, seems like it’s a parental decision and not a school board one.

    I realize this isn’t quite on the governmental level – but seems like the same problem. And parents pay for the tuition but didn’t get to make the decision on this one. Similar to what ConsiderAgain said, I would want the school to promote healthiness and good choices but not restrict those choices…otherwise how will my children get a chance to learn to make good choices?

  3. I considered the Helmut and Seat Belt analogy, and came to similar, but expounded conclusions:

    1) Wearing helmuts (on motorcycles or construction zones) prevents likely severe and immediate injury – injury that society would have to pay for, in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, per occurrence, if the individual did not have health insurance (though personally I think without insurance the individual’s wages should be garnished to pay for such care.) P.S. Catastrophic care insurance policies are available and affordable…people just don’t know about them.

    2) When government decided when/ to whom/ or if food can be offered or served, whether for free or for payment, then several things have occurred that are different than case #1 above:
    A) Indulging in cake sold or offered is not inherently dangerous on a per-occasion basis. Certainly there are exceptions, such as diabetics, and those many, many people that consistently, rather than on a one-time basis, over-indulge.

    B) When government regulates activity, it by definition, is preventing and or controlling what we can and cannot do – which by definition means freedom to choose and freedom to live have been lost and/or surrendered…to anonymous bureaucrats who know nothing of our individual lives, and don’t care to know.

    C) When government regulates, it creates policies that have to be enforced…enforcement requires money, manpower, and higher and higher taxes. These are taxes that could have gone to supporting families, businesses and economic growth, rather than random and inane policies that have no end.

    D) Finally, government should not be in the business of protecting us from harm, other than providing for the defense of the country. Nothing in the Constitution of the United States refers to such a function of government. And we learn from mistakes…we should NOT be protected from making them by government due to the inefficiencies and problems above.

    • Thanks for the response!

      One question. You said, “And we learn from mistakes…we should NOT be protected from making them by government due to the inefficiencies and problems above.”

      The point I believe the original commenter was trying to make is exactly that quote. That the government shouldn’t be able to “protect us from mistakes”. At all. I buy the society paying agreement to a point; however, if the individual did in fact have health insurance, it is much more difficult to argue a “cost to society” from them not wearing a seatbelt.

      The bottom line, in my opinion, is to discover where the line is. When is it okay for the government to protect us from our own choices? (i.e. seat belts, helmets, etc.) When is it too far? If we take the above quote literally, arguing that the government does not have a right to protect us from our own mistakes ever, then seatbelt/helmet laws must be questioned.

    • I think perhaps the line could be drawn (just one possibility) at the point that prevention of immediate, AND severe/life threatening, AND costly harm could be prevented by regulation…such as helmet laws (I know how to spell it! Sorry for the typos above!) and laws mandating baby seats, etc. But eating cake? How does that one action cause immediate, severe/life threatening/costly harm other than systematic overindulgence? It is where regulation extends beyond the above criteria, which would certainly limit governmental intrusion, that significant day-to-day freedoms and economic opportunity are lost.

      Also, the MORAL and FAIR case is for less governmental “protection” beyond the above criteria. Why? Because it benefits people, both individually and collectively, to be able to make mistakes. Of course, not everyone will learn. But if government “protects us” with regulation, no one is even given the chance to make a mistake, learn from it, and become a more dynamic, confident, driven, and productive citizen. It is patently unfair to people to completely strip them of freedom of choice to serve or eat cake, or ice cream, or a candy bar.

      Obesity is the stated “harm” supposedly addressed by the Cake Law. But much more harm is done by denying people freedom of choice to make right decisions (eating a balanced diet and getting the psychological lift that accompanies accomplishment and discipline) and the wrong choice of overindulgence, but a choice from which some people will learn from and change, which is quite valuable, and also brings the same uplifting feeling and confidence of accomplishment.

      Why not give people the right (freedom) at the very least to opt out of onerous laws like this one. Let the free market penalize those that overindulge with higher premiums on life and health and disability insurance. Let he free market also give an incentive of lower costs to healthy individuals that do not choose to wreck their health with bad choices. We let the market do this with smokers…why not obesity? Both are at the core, behavioral and items of individual choice. Genetics may play a role, but overall, a small one. Only in the past 20 years has obesity become an “epidemic”, which rules out the genetic component.

      • I think “immediate” is the key phrase in the criteria defined above. “Life-threatening” can be argued for other things, and “costly” is something I would never trust the government to define on a case-by-case basis.

        Excellent points though. Thanks for the comments!

  4. I think that eating heathy is extremely important. Sure, junk food is ok every once and a while. The problem is that fast food is cheap and made for you. No more of going out to the fields to bring home, yummy organic foods. People are so busy that they might not have time at night to sit and cook a heathy meal for their children. The public school system is trying to do there best in providing good meals. When you look closely at these meals, what looks heathy is not really that heathy. Recommended movie watching Food, Inc. and King Corn.

    • Sorry, for the misspellings of the word healthy. I have been having some problems with my keyboard.

      • No problem. 🙂 Thanks for the comments!

        I also agree that improvements in the healthiness of food for school lunches may have been made – however, I still would argue that the government (and schools) overstep their bounds when trying to completely eradicate all of these foods from campuses. The effect won’t help much if children are able to go home (or down the street to the gas station) and get the foods that have been “outlawed” immediately after school.

  5. Are you also opposed to seat belt laws? Helmut requirements at construction sites?

    • That’s a good point actually – made me think for awhile. I suppose I would argue that it’s considerably more difficult to prove that a slice of cake, donut, etc. would cause more harm than not wearing a seatbelt.

      Also, driving and construction sites are inherently dangerous situations, where the likelihood of death is heightened (compared to daily life).

      Finally, there is the anticipation argument. Harm from falling rocks or a collision is not something you can reasonably presume to occur. Something can happen that is beyond your control. The food you consume from bake sales can only danger you if you continue eating it – a choice that is entirely in your control.

  6. I think that we need to teach these kids to make the best choices for themselves. It is not solving anything to decide for them. If we were to decide for them the best start to eliminate sugar would be to remove ketchup. 😉

  7. I don’t like heavy-handed prescriptions that crowd out individual choice, but whoever pays for something gets to decide how its done. Unsavory as it is, bureaucrats are entrusted with state or federal taxpayer money.

    But this makes the case all the more for school choice through vouchers. If any family is really disadvantaged, give them a voucher so they can choose to escape the silliness that goes on in public schools.

    • “Whoever pays for something gets to decide how its done.” Wouldn’t this be arguing against the law, saying that because taxpayers strongly oppose it, they should be able to decide?

      Also, could you clarify how the voucher issue would contribute to the obesity problem?

      • Yes. Assuming taxpaying voters disagree with the law, they will kick out legislators like Fargo and overturn the law. It’s still a situation where he who pays decides. But in a liberal state like Massachusetts, the voter/taxpayer is likely to keep Fargo and her governing philosophy intact.

        I did not mean to say vouchers contribute to obesity. I did mean that vouchers are a good way to restore choice in liberal strongholds where voters are intent on enforcing such personal-responsibility sapping rules.

        • Ah, I see. Yes, vouchers sound like a good solution for education improvement in general. I admit I have not done enough research, but it sounds intriguing!

  8. I think that if some one were to take this law to the Supreme Court that it would be deemed unconstitutional. And seriously, there was a school that had “Donut days.” I agree in that the kid always has a choice in the matter on the food that they put into their bodies.

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