Opinion: Daily Journal

Government Nannies Let Parents Off The Hook

If you see obese children and don’t wince at what it means for their physical and emotional health, you don’t have a heart. But the Left believes you and I should feel much more than concern. The Left thinks you and I are responsible for these kids.

At the conclusion of his proclamation declaring September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, President Obama writes: “We all share in the responsibility of helping our Nation’s children enjoy longer, healthier lives. Together, we can give them the energy and confidence to learn, excel, and pursue their dreams.”

Words have meaning, and presidential words aren’t chosen haphazardly. That this president advocates a transfer of individual responsibilities to the collective isn’t surprising. But it is troubling. And it is wrong. My neighbor kid’s overindulgence in pizza with extra cheese is my concern, but it’s not my responsibility. Nor is policing her TV viewing habits or deciding her bedtime. And it’s certainly not my responsibility to give her “energy and confidence” to lead a happy and productive life.

What kids need are parents who serve chicken and vegetables for dinner, not pizza oozing with cheese. What kids need are parents who invest in bikes and basketballs, not TVs and cars. What kids need are parents willing to be parents, not buddies. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer Americans seem willing to embrace their individual obligations to their kids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 1980, a mere 7 percent of U.S. kids ages 6 to 11 were obese. By 2010, the number had more than doubled to 18 percent, and more than one-third of 6- to 19-year-olds were obese. The CDC has also concluded that government anti-obesity programs had little impact at stemming the tide of early childhood obesity between 2008 and 2011.

Still, telling parents to get their act together is politically incorrect. It makes people feel better to say we’re all part of the problem. But minimizing parental responsibility ignores their unique and powerful impact. We understand this when it comes to alcohol, cigarettes, and abuse. It’s the same with nutrition. I’m willing to bet you eat certain foods today, and don’t eat others, because of what you were introduced to as a child.

When we shift responsibilities away from parents and toward the collective, government officials eagerly step through the open door. This month, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Early Childhood Obesity Prevention is expected to present recommendations that may include sending government officials into the homes of “at-risk” families to monitor what the Medicaid recipients feed their kids. As Carolina Journal contributor Sara Burrows recently reported, ideas from a 2012 meeting of the group outlined weekly home visits — visits that would start at pregnancy and continue until age 5. Government social workers’ monitoring of the household would be all-encompassing, from sleep, “screen time,” nutrition, and physical activity, to working with medical care providers.
Who would qualify as “at-risk”? Government would decide.

This kind of stunning government overreach wouldn’t be unprecedented in our state. Last year, the mother of a Hoke County 4-year-old learned how much power the food police already wield over parents. State and federal guidelines require homemade lunches to include two servings of vegetables or fruit, a serving of meat or meat alternative, a serving of grain or bread, and liquid milk. It’s a shortsighted, one-size-fits-all government mandate that overrules parents and ignores what children eat and drink throughout the day.

So, when the pre-schooler showed up to school with a home-packed lunch of a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, potato chips, banana, and apple juice, that wasn’t good enough for school officials. You see, mom hadn’t included liquid milk with a lunch that reasonable people would deem healthy and tasty. So the child was given school-made chicken nuggets instead — and milk. Mom’s lunch went back home.

And there’s the problem. From the president on down, the Left believes government makes better decisions than parents. They put their utopian views into practice by imposing rules that defy human nature. In a free society, we must accept that some parents will feed their kids more pizza than chicken, and some families will spend more time on the couch than riding bikes.

Until we call these parents out for their actions, rather than allowing them to hide behind proclamations and rules about collective responsibility, we can expect more obese kids. As the Mayo Clinic’s Web page on prevention puts it, “Don’t expect your child to do something you are unwilling to do for yourself.”

Donna Martinez (@freemktmartinez) co-hosts Carolina Journal Radio and blogs at “Right Angles.”