Snack Attack

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In an agreement brokered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (the American Heart Association plus the William J. Clinton Foundation), five food manufacturers have promised to follow new nutritional guidelines for snacks sold in schools. As with the soft drink restrictions it arranged earlier this year, the alliance presents the nutritional guidelines as a way of "combating childhood obesity." But it seems unlikely the changes will make kids noticeably thinner.

The only rule that's directly related to that goal is a per-serving limit of 100 calories for foods other than fruits, vegetables, dairy products, entrees, and items with specified levels of fiber, protein, vitamins, or minerals. The general thrust is to increase the nutrient-to-calorie ratio and to reduce levels of fat, sugar, and salt. But these changes by themselves won't reduce total calorie consumption. The per-serving calorie limit might, but only if kids don't compensate by buying more servings, eating more of the foods not covered by the limit, bringing more food to school, or eating more elsewhere.

I have no problem in principle with agreements like this one, except to the extent that they're prompted by fears of litigation—litigation that would be groundless, in my view, since schools, not food companies, decide what students can buy at school. I'm just skeptical that fiddling with the mix of snacks and drinks sold in schools will have the advertised effect. Although making the food available in schools a little healthier can't hurt, I don't think it's reasonable to expect schools to police kids' calorie consumption.

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  1. If Woody Allen’s predictions in Sleeper are correct, then denying children access to the healthier alternative of greasy and fatty foods may be actionable.

  2. You know, and as you say, it really is very simple:

    Calorie input > Calorie consumption = increase in weight;

    Calorie input < Calorie consumption = decrease in weight;

    Calorie input = Calorie consumption = stable weight.

    What a misdirected effort this is; but, so long as it doesn’t become some vast bureaucratic agency, like say, the FDA, then I’m cool with it.

  3. “Although making the food available in schools a little healthier can’t hurt, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect schools to police kids’ calorie consumption.”

    I agree, but it helps keep Bill Clinton off the streets, which is the important thing.

  4. Well, it sounds as though the restrictions will decrease the calories per $ of snacks, since high fat and sugar snacks are high in calories per $. Sure, students could increase the number of portions that they eat, but only if we don’t believe that price and demand don’t matter. Of course, they could bring their own snacks, camel up at home, etc., but I would bet my money that this will indeed cut caloric intake, on average.

  5. This is probably harmless, but, like Mr. Sullum, I rather doubt it’s going to make much difference. Both of my sons can figure out how to order two ice cream sandwiches when they make each individual one smaller. Anyway, a kid can eat nothing but celery and still get fat if she never moves, and incorrigible junk food junkies who are also mountain bike enthusiasts won’t get fat. I think the Clinton Foundation would do more good sponsoring sports leagues or exercise classes than in limiting the sizes of cookie servings.

  6. but I would bet my money…

    Ay, and there’s the rub…it’s other people betting with your money as they fund the inevitable school calorie police who will be needed when the voluntary program is deemed not to go far enough because somehow the fat kids are still fat.

  7. I think the Clinton Foundation would do more good sponsoring sports leagues or exercise classes than in limiting the sizes of cookie servings.

    Since the food we had 25 years ago was essentially the same, I wonder why these people never seem to consider that it’s fear-based inactivity(caused by all the things that have taken away from kids such as playing outside unsupervised, swings, slides, tag, diving boards, monkey bars, etc.) that has chunked the kids up. I guess they think it’s easier to restrict and regulate than to encourage “dangerous” activities.

  8. “Both of my sons can figure out how to order two ice cream sandwiches when they make each individual one smaller.”

    I’ve heard that, if you put a lot of food in front of a person, the person will eat more food than they actually want to eat just because it’s there. So your sons might be satisfied with a small ice cream sandwich if that’s all you give them, but give them a large one and they’ll eat it all without giving it much thought. Makes sense to me. I used to stuff myself at restaurants way past the point where eating was pleasurable, just because the food was there and I had paid for it.

    “I have no problem in principle with agreements like this one, except to the extent that they’re prompted by fears of litigation”

    Maybe it’s a desire for good PR.

  9. When I first read this article, I had a different reaction than most. Rather than being skeptical, I saw it as a really good thing. I think one can argue that this is a perfect example of why free markets work better than the alternatives, and what can be done in the marketplace absent government interference. At its core, this is an example of the market listening to its customers, and changing quickly to meet the demands of those customers. Perfect, really. The next time a politician wants to legislate a perceived problem, this could be an example of why that legislation isn?t needed. It the people want the change that bad, the market has no choice but to listen.

  10. We give our kids 2% milk at home because they are both skinny. They don’t eat a lot of junk and are very active.

    However, their schools only carry 1% and skim.

    Can I sue the schools cuz my kids are NOT putting on weight?

  11. “I’ve heard that, if you put a lot of food in front of a person, the person will eat more food than they actually want to eat just because it’s there.”

    they’ve got a word for that, it’s called gluttony. I’ve left food on my plate almost every meal I’ve ever eaten. I eat til I’m full, then I stop. Karen has it right that kids who eat a lot and mountain bike don’t get fat. Duh. David: They got rid of monkey-bars?! That was the greatest recess activity of my whole elementary school career, you’ve got to be kidding. And no tag? That one’s really hard to believe, what’s the point. Seriously, they outlawed TAG?!? Our fearless leaders create problems just so they can come to they rescue with more problems. We’re raising a whole generation of fat wimps, this can’t be good.

  12. It all started when they banned dodge ball.

  13. Buckshot,

    Yes, they banned tag. Soccer and touch football, too. One can only imagine what they’d think of the lethal games of “Kill the carrier” we played as kids.

  14. “Kill the carrier?” I believe that game had a different name at one time.

  15. “Kill the Carrier?”….. talk about “going postal.” We didn’t do any “killin”, but we sure as hell did some “smearin”, if you kinda like, you know what I’m talking about and whatnot.

  16. “Kill the carrier?” I believe that game had a different name at one time.

    It may have, PL. The game we played with a football. One person would have it and try to avoid being tackled. Everyone else would try to tackle him and take the ball away. It was like reverse tag.

  17. We called it Kill The Man With The Ball. I don’t remember anyone getting killed and it was a good way to get a tough reputation.

  18. I have never once heard that game called “Kill the carrier”.

    The name doesn’t even have a good ring to it.

  19. I think there’s an effect here that Jacob misses.

    How you eat when you’re a kid establishes for the rest of your life what you consider normal. Kids who spend their school days eating food that is a little healthier, with less fat and sugar and more nutrients, are going to consider that type of diet normal. For the rest of their lives, consuming foods with those lower levels of fat and sugar will seem normal.

  20. “Kill The Kid With The Football” was the name of the game at my school playground. Buckshot is correct, it was definitely a reputation-builder. I was a short, scrawny kid, but I could run really fast. I think my ability to avoid the pursuers, as well as my ability to withstand a decent amount of pig-pile torture before giving up the ball helped me gain some small measure of respect from my bigger, meaner peers… at least to the point where they’d find some nerdier victim to take their frustrations out on.

    I guess I learned at an early age that if you and your companion stumble across a hungry bear, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your companion. 🙂

  21. At its core, this is an example of the market listening to its customers, and changing quickly to meet the demands of those customers.

    Since when is the American Heart Association and the Bill Clinton Foundation a customer of the snack food industry?

    Now, I’m sure Bill knows his way around the bottom of a Cheetos bag, but lobbying/pressure groups are by no means “customers.”

  22. Okay, there’s a wiki entry on the game. Apparently, the name isn’t as politically incorrect as I thought it was (see the last paragraph below):

    Smear the queer

    Smear the queer is a rougher tag variant more common among older children and teenagers. In this game, “it” is instead called “the queer”. The queer does not try to tag the other players; instead, he tries to avoid being tagged, or, more often, tackled (knocked down to the ground) or attacked with a toy weapon.

    Smear the queer is often played with an object such as a ball which is held by the “queer”. Once the “queer” is tagged or tackled, he throws the object into the air. The other players then try to grab the object, thus becoming the new “queer”. Unlike other forms of tag, those who stay “it” the longest are considered the best players.

    In the US, smear the queer is most often played using an American football. Children sometimes choose to play smear the queer after attempts to organize an informal game of tackle football fail (due to lacking enough players or simply as a fun alternative). Except in alternative versions, there is no way to win Smear the Queer. The game smear the queer is thought to have been around at least as long as children have played informal games of American football.

    Queer is used in the Victorian sense of “strange person” rather than the modern definition of “homosexual”, though contemporary players may interpret it in the latter sense. As a result, various renamings have proliferated. examples include: “Kill the Carrier”, “Murder Call”, “Kill the man with the ball”, “Kill the man with the pill”, “Pick ’em Up Bust em”, “Keep off”, “Cream the Carrier”, “Rumble Fumble,” or “Kick the dog with one shoe”.

  23. At its core, this is an example of the market listening to its customers, and changing quickly to meet the demands of those customers.

    Now, I’m sure Bill Clinton knows his way around the bottom of a Cheetos bag, but lobbying/pressure groups like the AHA and its ilk are by no means “customers.”

  24. “I’ve heard that, if you put a lot of food in front of a person, the person will eat more food than they actually want to eat just because it’s there.”

    “they’ve got a word for that, it’s called gluttony. I’ve left food on my plate almost every meal I’ve ever eaten. I eat til I’m full, then I stop.”

    But kids in my generation were taught to “always clean your plate, because leaving on your plate to be thrown away is wasteful, and there are starving kids in China who wish they could eat the food you throw away.” I think German-American kids were especially susceptible to this.

    It’s a habit that needs to be unlearned. Unfortunately, I have many adult friends who still believes that leaving food uneaten is wasteful. I had a minor argument with one friend about this; I said that if you eat food more food than you need, you’re still wasting it. He countered that if he continues to eat even after he’s full, he might end up eating less at the next meal because he won’t be as hungry. I very much doubt that it works that way.

  25. Where my wife grew up the game was called smear the queer. Where I grew up it was called kill the man with the ball. Where I live now I believe it is still called kill the n-word.

  26. It was Smear the Queer where I grew up, too.

  27. One can only imagine what they’d think of the lethal games of “Kill the carrier” we played as kids.

    Are you talking about “Smear the Queer”?

  28. RC, I did say at its core. Obviously the real customers are the parents that elect the members of the school board that makes the decision to allow these items to be sold.

    Unless you have information that states most parents don’t want to increase the nutrient-to-calorie ratio and to reduce levels of fat, sugar, and salt in the snacks made available to their children, I stand by my statement.

  29. We called it “Muckle the Man with the Football.”

    I think “Muckle” was a contraction of “Murder” and “Tackle.”

  30. Regardless of what you call it, there’s no way kids are allowed to play that game at recess now. Which is sad, because there’s nothing like trying to avoid being clobbered by 25 other kids to burn calories.

  31. joe, I believe that “muckle” means “fondle”.

    Just kidding. I think it means “large”, which is a little confusing, so I’m betting that your etymology is correct. At least you weren’t abusing people based on sexual preference or possession of a football at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  32. RC, I did say at its core. Obviously the real customers are the parents that elect the members of the school board that makes the decision to allow these items to be sold.

    There’s still no interaction between the lobbyists from the AHA and the Bubba Foundation and the real customers.

    Unless you have information that states most parents don’t want to increase the nutrient-to-calorie ratio and to reduce levels of fat, sugar, and salt in the snacks made available to their children, I stand by my statement.

    What people “want” and what they are willing actually do in ways that impact markets are two very different things.

    And I still stand by my assertion that this agreement has nothing at all to do with listening to customers. Or their parents. Or the people that some small percentage of those parents voted for.

  33. The largest problem with the school/ snack issue is the captive market nature of it. Students are often not free to leave the school and thus the companies that negotiate access to the school are operating in an environment free of competition. Thus, even if a student had the inclination to consume healthier snacks they cannot. The way that snack and soft drink companies gain access to the student market needs to be reformed so that the students have the freedom to choose from a variety of products.

  34. The great thing about Kill the man with the ball (great thread here) was that it was totally insane, had no real point or rules, and best of all required no adult supervision. No wonder we all grew up to be Libertarians.

  35. We played “Kill the Ballcarrier” at my elementary school, too. It could get pretty brutal. There were two versions: full tackle, when our class had access to the grass field, and 2-hand touch, when we had to play on the paved lot.

    We also had a great tag game called “Run Across.” One guy was “it”, and everybody else ran from one end of the field to the other. At both ends of the field were end-zone-like bases, which were safe from “it.” Anybody caught – again, tackled on grass*, or tagged on pavement – had to join the original “it” in catching more guys. Eventually there was one Last Kid Standing, who was the Ultimate Champeen. My description seems to match the British game “Bulldog” listed on that Wiki entry.

    When I was 11 my arm was broken on the schoolyard. 7 of my friends and I were playing a 4-team game of Chicken Fights. We were playing on grass, not in the water, and staying upright with another kid on your shoulders was no mean trick. I was carrying one of my best pals into the fray, and everyone was having a good time for a few rounds. Then, out of nowhere, an uninvited team consisting of one of the heaviest fellows in our year mounted piggy-back on one of the tallest came running across the field and crashed into the lot of us. I wound up at the bottom of the pile with a fractured bone in my wrist. I lost a year of Little League healing up from that. I knew I’d broken a bone immediately, as 2 years earlier I broke the other one learning how to ice skate on the lake behind my house.

    It was the local Catholic school. We had no playground equipment to speak of and still figured out ways to maim each other, and did it while wearing dress slacks, black oxfords and white dress shirts, uphill both ways. 🙂

    All of this ferocious schoolboy activity didn’t keep me from porking out once I

    a.) Started eating college cafeteria food on a regular basis.

    b.) Started spending my weekend nights pouring beer down my gullet, followed by a post-bar-time meal of pizza or chili.

    c.) Wound up in a sedentary work environment after completing my education.

    Once that regimen was established, my survived-the-Famine Irish genes did the rest.

    Kevin

    * The Nuns eventually banned tackle games of all sorts on even the grass field, the sissies!

  36. The largest problem with the school/ snack issue is the captive market nature of it.

    Any student who wants can bring healthy snacks to school with them.

    Somehow, I managed to get through school without having to snack my way through the day. There were no health snacks on offer in my school, yet somehow I never ate an unhealthy snack. Weird, huh?

    Students in school are captives in a lot of ways, but one area where they can exercise quite a lot of control is diet.

  37. I needed high-caloric meals to survive in the football-mad South. Talking about these games reminds me of the violence inherent in the system back in those days. I–along with a bunch of other guys–got in loads of trouble for playing tackle football during free time in 6th grade. Something about breaking some kid’s arm or something. Oops. I kneed a friend in the head playing a game called Gator (also football related) and got clobbered by a wall playing something called Hangtime. Mysteriously, I never actually sustained a real injury playing plain ol’ football. Huh.

    Speaking of the relative inactivity of today’s youth, I noticed something with my girlfriend’s kids. They can sit down in front of the TV at almost any time and find something to watch (thanks to Nick, Disney, etc.). Contrast that to my childhood, which started off with about five channels, but, even with the advent of cable, I recall huge swaths of the day having “nothing good on”. I think the video games were equally distracting back then, but we didn’t have the Internet. . .which is a huge distraction to me as an adult–I can just imagine the effect on the kids!

  38. Pro Libertate:

    Chicken Fights! I haven’t heard about that one in years. I was a scrawny runt, still am, so I got to be on top. It’s too bad we have to grow up, I had being a kid DOWN.

  39. Oops, that was kevrob who post that chicken fight story, sorry old boy. I knew some Catholic School Kids, tough bunch of little Irishmen.

  40. Buckshot,

    Ah, but I am familiar with the so-called “Chick Fight”. Best played in the pool, where the violence can be exercised without fear of repercussions.

  41. Heh, heh, there’s my tribute to Dr. Freud for the day, I’m sure. Make that “chicken fight.”

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