Banning Junk Food in Schools Teaches the Wrong Lesson
Brian Gongol

The state school board of Illinois has voted to ban vending machines selling junk food in elementary and middle schools. Pop, candy, and chips are being prohibited in yet another quest to "protect the children."

Decisions like this teach kids three utterly ridiculous lessons:
  1. You can't take care of yourself as well as the government can
  2. Everything must be judged on its worst possible use
  3. If you don't like it, you should ban it
Not only does the decision trump local districts' own decision-making authority (an offense unto itself), it makes a mockery of actually teaching children how to make decisions, and tells them that someone else has to make those decisions for them.

The authoritarians in command have assumed that children as old as 14 are too stupid to know the consequences of what they do. Certainly, most young children probably don't understand the consequences of overconsumption of saturated fats.

But it's preposterous to suggest that kids -- even as young as first or second grade -- don't understand the difference between being fat and being thin. Surely none of the Illinois school regulators went through elementary school without hearing some obese kid being teased for eating too many cookies.

Kids deserve protection from imminent harm; that's why it's perfectly reasonable to require parents to put toddlers in safety seats. But the health problems that result from eating too much junk food are long-term problems. Since most children probably still get most of their meals (and junk food) at home, the way to keep kids from getting fat is not to prohibit their access to candy bars for six hours a day, 200 days a year -- it's to teach them how to make decisions about what to eat. What is labeled contraband usually becomes a holy grail -- at least to many people. Thus, the allure of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs to rebellious teens and adults alike.

But pretending as though it's better to teach a discerning 10-year-old that it's better to let government make decisions for him or a 12-year-old that "officials" know better than her what to do with her own behavior is nothing more than a trip through Big Brother Day Care. It won't keep children from becoming overweight today, and it certainly won't make them better decision-makers (not to mention voters) tomorrow.