The food police and unintended consequences

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We have run numerous articles about school districts banning chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk on lunch lines.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note what is happening in Los Angeles.

Last fall, the Los Angeles Unified School District eliminated flavored milk in an effort to promote better eating habits in children. Besides flavored milk, the district eliminated chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other foods perceived to be high in sodium, fat or sugar.

The initiative flopped.

Instead of making kids healthier by substituting in healthy items like fresh pears and vegetable curry, “there have been reports of a thriving trade in black-market junk food, of pizzas delivered to side doors and of familysized bags of chips being brought from home, according to two Cornell University professors who wrote a commentary that appeared in numerous newspapers.

“Garbage cans are filling up with the more nutritious food, even if kids aren’t,” say the professors, who are co-directors of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

Now there is word that Los Angeles officials are relenting a bit and allowing some foods back in, such as hamburgers and pizza.

Flavored milk won’t be returning, however.

Regardless of where flavored milk fits into the equation, there is a larger point: You can’t force kids to eat foods they don’t like.

“As the Los Angeles example makes clear, trying to teach students to eat more healthful foods by removing other choices can backfire,” say the Cornell professors, David Just and Brian Wansink.

“When children (or even adults) feel restricted or forced into a decision, they naturally rebel,” the professors said.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out as the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements new standards for school meals, which were announced in late January.

The government will require schools to offer 8 ounces of milk with each school lunch or breakfast. But low-fat flavored milks are out. Any flavored milk needs to be fat-free.

“Eliminating low-fat flavored milks, which kids like, and still allowing a wide variety a la carte beverages like juice beverages, sports drinks and soda at schools will reduce milk consumption,” says Connie Tipton, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association.

Certainly, there are unintended consequences when you start telling people what they can or cannot eat or drink.



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