Friday, November 9, 2012

Our national shame

Now that Mrs. Obama can shoo away the moving van, supporters of the First Lady’s efforts to curb childhood obesity don’t have to fear a backslide into broader backsides. The problem of over-eating will continue to get the spotlight.
Too bad some of the attention couldn’t be redirected to the other nutrition crisis threatening our children. Sure, many youngsters suffer from a gross imbalance in how much they eat and how many calories they burn. More disturbing is the huge but little-noticed issue of kids not getting enough calories in the first place.
We’re not talking about too many empty calories or not enough solid nutrition. We’re talking about children going hungry, period. They can’t eat because there’s insufficient money within their families to buy food..
In January, my editorial duties were expanded to include oversight of FoodService Director, a publication for the managers of high-volume feeding operations in colleges, hospitals, office buildings and schools. Speaking to readers from the latter sector, I’ve heard story after story about youngsters virtually living off the free or reduced-cost meals they’re served at school.
The accounts are heartbreaking: A young boy who’d eat half his meal, then wrap up the other half to bring home to his pre-school-aged sister.
The parent who asked a teacher to wrap up anything her child didn’t finish at lunch, so the kid would have something for that night.
The countless stories of teachers who’d call a student up to their desk, then open a drawer so the child could take a packaged snack home for dinner.
Share our Strength, the charity devoted to ending childhood hunger, surveyed teachers to see how often they dip into their own pockets to get food into their students’ mouths. The average contribution: Just over $26 per teacher.
Worst of all, the new school-feeding regulations that were put in place by the Obama Administration are aimed at curbing obesity. Toward that end, they put a cap on how many calories a youngster can be given in a free or reduced-price meal.
That’s a painful reality to teachers who know a student may at best get a meal or two over a weekend—and often won’t get anything.
Then there’s the wallop of the regulations’ requirement that student be served a piece of fresh fruit. The kids have to put the orange or two kiwis on their trays, whether they’re going to eat it or not. And often, that’s a not; a fairly costly item ends up in the trash.
It’s a national disgrace, a shame that should mobilize us all to put Share our Strength out of business.
Michelle Obama deserves high praise for underscoring the problem of childhood obesity and trying to turn that heightened awareness into action. She used the White House publicity machine well.
But all of us, from houses of all colors, have to work right now, with all we’ve got, to ensure our next generation doesn’t go to bed hungry.

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