A Fox Guarding the Henhouse

Over the course of the past 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has nearly tripled. Nearly one in three American children and adolescents today are overweight or obese….  Nearly a third of our nation’s young people are at risk for preventable diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventable diseases have serious consequences – which is why health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

USDA press release, May 1, 2013.

The subject of the press release was some new school-lunch program.  One might read this and reasonably conclude that the USDA is helping to prevent childhood obesity.

But the reality is that the USDA is complicit in the causes of the epidemic.  It promotes and implements an industrial food system designed to generate cheap, fattening, nutrient-free processed food.  The things that are fattening and killing our children (such as candy-coated breakfast cereals, soft drinks, fast foods and processed snack/junk foods) are made primarily from government-subsidized commodity crops.  Because so much of the cost of those items is prepaid by taxpayers, they appear cheap in comparison to whole natural foods, whose producers are not receiving government handouts.

I overheard someone talking about the prevalence of obese kids these days.  He said something like, “Remember when there was usually just one fat kid in the class or in the school?”  It made me think of Fat Albert, a cartoon from my childhood.  In those days, childhood obesity was a rare thing (and more likely to be caused by genetics than exclusively by diet).  Today, with 1/3 or more of all American children obese, it’s becoming the norm.

We are feeding our children a diet that fattens and ultimately prematurely kills them.   That diet, combined with lack of exercise, is producing a nation whose children are as fat as its adults.

And even as the USDA might be saying the right things, it’s handing kids “happy meals” and bags of cheetos while saying them.


8 comments on “A Fox Guarding the Henhouse

  1. Sophie says:

    well said.


  2. Bob Braxton says:

    When I was growing up, our big chore was feeding the chickens (three thousand one, five thousand next) – not eating them – this was prior to my entering college August 1962.


  3. laura says:

    Don’t forget the prevalence of formula feeding in our culture. Kids that start out with high-sugar fake food from the beginning tend to stay with the high-sugar fake food when they get bigger and can actually make their own food choices.


  4. shoreacres says:

    And then there’s this. If the USDA is so complicit, why isn’t our first lady lobbying for changes there? Planting a garden in the front yard of the White House is fine – no objection here to that. But if she wanted to make a real difference, she could trade some of that garden dirt for the dirt of real politics, taking on some of the very structures that are by their nature accountable to her husband.

    After all, Tom Vilsack, the head of the USDA, is a buddy. You’d think some public pressure from the White Hous could be helpful.


    • Bill says:

      The USDA implements the “Farm Bill” and that is where the problems lay. It is a trillion-day bipartisan policy disaster.
      Mrs. Obama has made campaigning against childhood obesity her principal cause. She says the programs she’s spearheaded have made a positive difference. Maybe they have, but at the end of the day it comes down to diet and exercise and as long as processed food is promoted by federal policies (and our tax dollars) we can’t expect this problem to go away. Industrial Ag’s multi-billion dollar advertising budgets don’t help either.


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