A bill filed in the House last month is meant to encourage healthy eating in schools, particularly healthy food grown or produced in North Carolina. 

Thing is, this bill does nothing of the sort.

The measure, House Bill 136, promotes Muscadine grape juice in public schools and the state’s colleges and universities — as part of their lunch programs and in vending machines. The Scuppernong grape, a variation of the Muscadine, is the official fruit of North Carolina. So says the bill.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, is the bill’s primary sponsor. Whether Howard is leaning toward the interests of political donors or wants simply to promote N.C. agriculture — a worthy pursuit, on its face — is irrelevant.

The bill has myriad problems. That it’s mostly ridiculous is the overarching theme here, but I’ll be specific. First, the bill requires schools to make 100% Muscadine grape juice available to students, including those in charter schools. It’s a government mandate that favors one segment of private business over another, and the move should die because of that alone. Big and prosperous producers will jump in and dominate supply chains, because the juice will be cheaper, all because of a mandate funded by taxpayers.

Now, I’m not one to criticize wine and its numerous health benefits, consumed responsibly, of course. Muscadine juice, both red and white, is fat- and cholesterol-free and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, such as resveratrol.

It’s also loaded with sugar, albeit natural. “Even without added sugars, one cup of grape juice contains 36 grams of sugar and almost no fiber, so it can cause your blood sugar to spike,” WebMd says. Excess sugar intake, for all of us, is a problem. This bill only perpetuates it.

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting juice to a half-cup serving per day,” WebMd says.

H.B. 136 says juice made from the Muscadine grape doesn’t need added sugar, but who’s going to police what’s bought and distributed? Muscadine grapes are popular for making jams, jellies, and the like. Because the grapes are, well, sweet.

Sure, grape juice is a better option than soda, or sports or energy drinks, too. But let’s not promote the idea of children guzzling grape juice bought from vending machines. The state House approved the bill, 91-22. As of March 29, it sat in a Senate committee. 

Consider this: Three out of four members of the House voted to further extend the government’s reach into our schools, by mandating untold gallons of grape juice. Go figure.

Obesity in the U.S. is a serious problem, say health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The prevalence of obesity in children 2 to 19, the CDC says, was 18.5%. About 13.7 million children and adolescents were obese. “Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds,” the CDC says.

I’m a huge fan of N.C. agriculture, our crops and our livestock, but forcing sugar-rich drinks down schools’ throats won’t make kids healthy. They need 60 minutes of physical activity each day. At least. We all do.

Again, from the CDC: “Less than one-quarter (24%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In 2017, only 26.1% of high school students participate in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on all seven days of the previous week.

The bill, to be clear, doesn’t force students to drink the juice, so there’s that, I suppose. Still, better and healthier options are readily available and a whole lot cheaper. Just provide, sans mandates, the whole grapes. Or sweet potatoes or apples. And a tall glass of water.