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« Monty Python | Main | Outsourcing »

Data-Free Policies

Glenn notes an article about how the obesity wars have moved into the schools.

...like other misguided public health campaigns (remember "Just Say No"?), putting children on de facto diets at school just doesn't work. In a 2003 experiment involving 41 schools, more than 1,700 children many of them American Indian were served lower-calorie and lower-fat lunches and were taught about healthy eating and lifestyles.

While the children took in fewer calories from fat at school, they experienced no significant reduction in their percentage of body fat.

Another study, in rural Nebraska in the mid-1990's, put one group of elementary school students on lower-fat and lower-sodium lunches, increased their physical activity at school and offered more education about nutrition. Compared with students having no special program, the active, lower-fat group showed no differences in body weight or fat, or in levels of total cholesterol, insulin or glucose after two years.

Note that, it's not only like health campaigns in that regard. As is usual in new fads and trends in public education, this is not only not backed up by any credible research, but the available research indicates that it's nonsense. It reminds me of the old joke about Marxism from the Soviet Union:

Student: Teacher, is it true that Marx was a scientist?

Teacher: Of course! Comrade Marx was the greatest scientist of all time!

Student: Then how come he didn't try this cr@p out on rats first?

[Update in the afternoon]

For those who want to avoid this stuff, the latest Carnival of Homeschooling is up.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 30, 2006 08:08 AM
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The people behind this crap are just about control. They know they are wrong. It's their brand of socialism that is most important.

Posted by Bill Maron at May 30, 2006 07:12 PM

And how did the skinny kids forced to go on a diet because the fat kids could not control their own eating fair? Were the detrimental health consequences to this persecuted minority even considered? This is prohibition all over again, but it is not like the malnourished kids can survive without food.

Posted by Pete Lynn at May 30, 2006 08:21 PM

This is why destruction of the public school system should be the most important goal of our nation.

Posted by Mike Rentner at May 31, 2006 07:00 AM

Hey, remember when schools used to do P.E.? Five days per week? Heck, we use to run, play hoops, murder each other in touch football. Of course, now this is all seen as cruel and unusual. I suppose when kids now meet for P.E. they get nutrition lectures and play checkers. I saw one local school was teaching kids how to perform C.P.R. during P.E. class. They've abandoned physical health for "good intentions," which means they'll have neither.

Posted by Joe Baby at May 31, 2006 07:42 AM

Jeez louise, what is it with people who react so angrily to something like this? Maybe I'm dense, but how is this socialism? How is this crap? Sure, it starts with the parents, and I agree if the parents aren't so motivated, it will be an uphill battle, but schools are for teaching, for sharing our culture's values, and we *should* be introducing our children to a healthy lifestyle. If we have the choice of providing them with a healthy lunch or pizza every day, we *should* give them the healthy lunch. If we have the choice of providing them with some sort of daily physical activity or allowing them to sit around watching videos or whatever, we *should* get them moving. It would be irresponsible as a culture to do otherwise.

Posted by Dave at May 31, 2006 07:44 AM

Dave -

People are upset because it is all nonsense. Pizza IS a healthy lunch. There are no "bad foods" and "good foods." I had ice cream last night, and it was tasty. And somehow I neither had a heart attack nor a stroke, nor did I end up obese.

Posted by Clark at May 31, 2006 07:54 AM

Childhood obesity is mainly caused by a seditary lifestyle. I ate tons of junk food growing up, but I was actively involved in sports and enjoyed playing outside. Even though I had a computer and video game systems growing up, my parents only allowed me to play for a short period everyday. When my Dad got home from work, he would play basketball with me for hours, even if he was tired. I was never overweight, until I got older and stopped exercising. Once I started exercising again, the weight came off. That doesn't mean we shouldn't eat healthy, but we shouldn't eliminate junk food from our diet. We should enjoy life and enjoy eating...just not to extremes.

Posted by Jim O. at May 31, 2006 08:00 AM

Do some research on High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS) and you will see that by getting it out of our kids diet most of the obesity and type 2 diabetes problems will be greatly reduced. There are graphs out there that show the current obesity/type 2 diabetes problems track almost perfectly with the increased consumption of HFCS.

One of the little publicized side effects of consuming HFCS is whats called fatty liver. Fatty liver is the precursor to cirrhosis.

Posted by RobD at May 31, 2006 08:08 AM

Dave, I too am all for healthy diets; but I can see where the angry reaction is coming from.

I generally do not trust government regulation on lifestyle choices. I do not like it when the government controls whom I can and cannot love; and I certainly don't like it when the government (through public schools) controls what I can and cannot eat. The government is not in the entertainment industry and it has no business molding us all in the image of Heidi Klum. Even Hollywood and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition do not go far. Controlling general foods as if it were crystal-meth-lite is unnecessarily paternalistic. I can see why this is troubling to some.

Posted by pok at May 31, 2006 08:10 AM

Amusing. We don't trust our government enough to let them analyze what are essentially phone bills, but we're just fine with letting a primarily neo-Socialist, government sponsored union indoctrinate our children in the ways of collective socialism? No thanks, I'm quite comfortable with parenting my own children, and need absolutely no bleeding-heart liberal assistance.

Posted by Hogarth at May 31, 2006 08:25 AM

Dave:

I think the wariness comes from being encouraged to submit more and more aspects of our lives to the ministration and micro-management of 'experts,' bureaucrats and regulation. It doesn't help that a good bit of this interference borders on quackery and does more harm than good, or that its advocacy so often comes with a thinly-disguised political or social agenda.

Wariness also comes from the absence of individual initiative and personal responsibility from proposed solutions, along with ritualized declarations of helplessness to 'justify' the need for 'official' intervention.

It comes from the tendency to mix scaremongering about pseudo-issues (alar, second-hand smoke, etc.) with real ones. It also comes from the presumption on the part of policy makers that an omniscient elite always know what's best for the rest of us.

I really don't care what we call it, as long as we see it for the pernicious and debilitating influence it is.

Posted by vinny vidivici at May 31, 2006 08:27 AM

I used to teach English in Japanese public middle schools. The kids were required to recieve 1000+ calories at lunch time, and were given whole milk to drink. I can't say whether the lunches were low fat or not (how much fat is in a ginko nut or sesame seed/miso dressing?) but they were TASTY! They never had dessert though, sometimes yogurt, lots of times fresh fruit.

And, no, the kids weren't fat!

Maybe if they would get off the "low fat" kick, and went for tasty and nourishing our kids would do better?

Posted by Carolynn at May 31, 2006 08:28 AM

RobD, you're right on target. I really wish this would get more publicity.

Posted by Maggie45 at May 31, 2006 08:43 AM

"Do some research on High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS)"

And while you're at it, do some research on why high fructose corn syrup is so commonly used in the U.S. (hint: government price supports for sugar, which raise its price in the U.S. well above the world market price).

Another reason not to trust government programs to change our diets.

Posted by Bill Wyatt at May 31, 2006 09:02 AM

Maybe they should start smoking.

Posted by Jaime Roberto at May 31, 2006 09:04 AM

The answer to HFCS is to convert it all to ethanol - with more government support for ethanol we can lick the HFCS problem, Heck - if we up the subsidies to farmers we can get more corn also.
more $ for famers = more corn
more corn = more ethanol
more ethanol = less gas
less gas = more walking
more walking = less obesity

OK - I get it now!

Posted by coggieguy at May 31, 2006 09:22 AM

When i was in elementary school in the 70's, back in Alabama, we had no air conditioning in our classrooms, we had mandatory PE every day and our school cafeteria food was what you'd expect.

BTW, the first 15 minutes of PE usually consisted of calisthenics (jumping jacks and the like), followed by some sort of game. We were not allowed to just stand around, but had to be doing something.

Of course, there were no video games and only three TV channels at home, so in the summers and weekends we were kicked out of the house and had to find things to do.

I don't recall any kids having asthma and there were no obese kids (i checked my old yearbooks to confirm the last point). Sure, there were "chubby" kids, but not one with the level of morbid obesity that is so common today.

Wonder why...

Posted by mark nelson at May 31, 2006 09:22 AM

"Sure, it starts with the parents, and I agree if the parents aren't so motivated, it will be an uphill battle, but schools are for teaching, for sharing our culture's values, and we *should* be introducing our children to a healthy lifestyle."

Dave has a good point. If we could just get the parents to quit screwing up these kids the State would be able to produce healthy, responsible socially conscious citizens.

Posted by submandave at May 31, 2006 09:25 AM

I'm not sure creating a school menu that most would consider 'healthy' is socialism....unless the definition of socialism has bee greatly expanded since I went to school.

After all, kids have to eat. Therefore the choice we're faced with is: should we serve them something that is generally accepted as good for them (which by the way doesn't mean it can't taste awesome), or shall they be served food that's NOT good for them. It seems like the prudent thing is to go with "good for them." And, on the other hand, ignorant to think that diet doesn't have consequences.

Besides, concerned families can always send their kids off with a lunch box filled with whatever it is mom or dad thinks is best. In many cases this will consist soley of Ring Dings, Dorritos, bubble gum and a can of Coke but hey, that's the free market. Parents are free to screw up their kids anyway they want. They have my blessing.

Everyone else should think about the number of artificial ingredients that are in many foods today...and all processed foods...corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, etc. These ingredients didn't even exist two generations ago. And are mostly used as cheap substitutes for items our grandparents would have eaten regularly without harm.

Wanting our kids to have access to the same natural, whole, unprocessed foods previous generations use to eat is not socialism at all--it's the height of conservatism.

Posted by James at May 31, 2006 09:46 AM

James-

You already demonstrate why the approach you advocate is a bad idea. Because it is generally done based on how someone "feels" about food, and not science. What is the evidence that "artificial ingredients" are any worse for you than "natural ingredients"? Most ideas of "good food" and "bad food" turn out to be fads, and with no or poor support from actual studies.

The largest study to date (~50K women) was released earlier this year and showed no correlation between high-fat and low-fat diets in terms of morbidity, cancer, heart attack, weight or cholesterol (Check out Feb 7, 2006 NYT, February 7, 2006, "Study Finds Low-Fat Diet Won't Stop Cancer or Heart Disease"). So all this nonsense about how high fat foods are "bad" is just that.

Posted by Clark at May 31, 2006 10:15 AM

"Wanting our kids to have access to the same natural, whole, unprocessed foods previous generations use [sic] to eat." Pack your child a lunch, or have them do it. My 11 year old daughter does this, your kid can too. It ain't difficult. Nothing is preventing your from doing this NOW. Stop relying on the state (i.e. the schools) to do your job of parenting - and that IS a conservative notion.

Posted by RKV at May 31, 2006 10:16 AM

sez James:

"Wanting our kids to have access to the same natural, whole, unprocessed foods previous generations use to eat is not socialism at all--it's the height of conservatism."

That's not much of a distinction. Both socialism and conservatism see the State as ruling in loco parentis.... they differ only on the details. Conservatism tends to be a stern parent, while Socialism a doting one (at first). Same road, different lanes.

Posted by seerak at May 31, 2006 11:37 AM

Isn't this policy counter-intuitive? Body image and beauty as patriarchal fantasies were almost exclusively a gospel of modern education. It would seem that a rejection of state-sanctioned management of weight would be a natural front for public schools in the overall dismantling of the oppressiveness of beauty and slim waist-lines. That the same schools would adopt the very physical standards that has condemned Roseanne Barr and many more overweight victims only resuscitates patriarchal notions of health at a time when fat people have been most empowered.

These policies are sending the wrong signals by "re-abnormalizing" Oprah, Jack Black, and other people of appetite.

The freedom to make bad decisions is just as important as any other freedom for it allows us to reach the depth of our humanity. Most students are not obesed; why can't the schools just control the caloric intake of fat people instead of turning us all into Atkinians?

Posted by pok at May 31, 2006 11:46 AM

James,

You said: "Besides, concerned families can always send their kids off with a lunch box filled with whatever it is mom or dad thinks is best. In many cases this will consist soley of Ring Dings, Dorritos, bubble gum and a can of Coke but hey, that's the free market."

Unfortunately, that's not how it works once the school system starts asserting control. In New Jersey we just received a note from our daughter's elementary school telling us that the new law means that we cannot send unapproved foods (which includes chocolate)in our kids' lunches. In other words, they mandate what is acceptable for us to feed out kids.

For the record, I have four kids, all physically active (in sports and dance), and generally eat whatever they want. None are anywhere near being "obese" -- two of them couldn't gain weight if they tried.

I really don't think kids are more "obese" than in my youth. They have certainly moved the goal posts a bit (what used to be "normal" is now considered "obese"). I remember plenty of fat kids when I was in school, and I don't observe a higher number of fat kids in my kids' schools (elementary, middle school, and high scool).

My concern -- this will not achieve the desired effect. But as with most such educational fads, it's not the end result that's important; it's that we feel good that we've done something.

Posted by Randall at May 31, 2006 12:43 PM

I think the public schools should target obesity. After all they've done such a bang up job with literacy and numeracy that they must have a whole lot of extra time on their hands to tackle obesity.

Come to think of it, why don't we have them take a crack at world peace?

Posted by Bill at May 31, 2006 12:59 PM

I think the public schools should target obesity. After all they've done such a bang up job with literacy and numeracy that they must have a whole lot of extra time on their hands to tackle obesity.

Come to think of it, why don't we have them take a crack at world peace?

Posted by Bill at May 31, 2006 01:00 PM

"people of appetite"

Wow, that's the best euphemism for fat ever.

Posted by Half Sigma at May 31, 2006 01:10 PM

Why is it such a ridiculous idea to have our publicly-funded schools feed our children better foods? And how in the world is that a socialist idea, Bill Maron? (Or were you referring to the one instance of the stupid one-slice pizza limit mentioned in the article?)

I think that there are many good things about being conservative, but a kneejerk, reactionary brand of conservativism is surely no better that wacko liberalism.

Regardless of politics, would it not behoove us to to seriously weigh the merits of feeding our children better? Surely a thoughtful discussion is a better approach. Jumping on the bandwagon of a Times article (especially one that favors anecdotal stories over actual evidence) is pretty uninspiring.

Nobody wants American children to be obese. Some people are at least trying to fix it. Rather than dismissing their approach as "socialist," how about offering some better alternatives?

Posted by Mr. Hodges at May 31, 2006 01:30 PM

I agree with Bill. They've screwed up literacy and math ability. Why should we trust them with a health issue?

"Some people are at least trying to fix it." Well, give them a medal just for trying. Write their hagiographies. Never mind if they have no effect or make things worse or produce unintended consequences. They acted from the hightest of motives. They meant well.

Why should we suggest alternatives? It isn't for us to offer alternatives or prove the policies ineffective.

It's for those offering the policies to prove them effective.

They could run a few experiments on a few schools and see if they actually get results. If they have done this, it's up to them to publicize the results. I haven't seen anything like this. I wonder why.

But just for you, Mr. Hodges, here's one alternative.

Instead of "one size fits all" gym classesm for badly out-of-shape students, evaluate each one individually and give him/her an personal goal to meet. Focus on slow, steady progress in small steps. More record-keeping work for the gym teacher, but computers will help. Besides, we want improvement, not athletes/losers, right?

Posted by Jim C. at May 31, 2006 03:53 PM

The hilarious thing (in a cruel way) is that the people who are targeting fat as the culprit in the weight of school children are targeting the wrong component of foods. By now they should know its the grains, sugars and especially corn syrup. I have to assume its on purpose. I mean, the information is out there. If I know it, they must.
Sometimes it seems like they are trying to create a nation of hamsters. Very fat, lethargic hamsters.

Posted by pbird at May 31, 2006 04:19 PM

There are graphs out there that show the current obesity/type 2 diabetes problems track almost perfectly with the increased consumption of HFCS.

Sorry, but correlation is not the same thing as causation. There is no evidence that HFCS has any more impact on obesity or diabetes than any other sugar. Childhood obesity rates are increasing in countries like Great Britain and Egypt, where HFCS is not greatly used.

Posted by ucfengr at June 1, 2006 06:18 AM

James wrote:

"Everyone else should think about the number of artificial ingredients that are in many foods today...and all processed foods...corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, etc. These ingredients didn't even exist two generations ago. And are mostly used as cheap substitutes for items our grandparents would have eaten regularly without harm."

You sound just like my mom. She is even against genetically engineered crops. A real food ludite. I grew up on that cr*p in the 70s and early 80s, and rejected it all completely as soon as I could buy my own food. I eat anything I like, whenever I like. I love HFCS, and drink 3-4 cans of Dr Pepper a day. I am 5'9" and 148lbs. I trust you health food types about as much as the UFO nuts. My kids are skinny too, and you'd better stay away from their lunch! The story about New Jersey dictating what cannot be brought in a bag lunch is just creepy.

Posted by Chris M at June 1, 2006 09:48 AM

To clarify, I really wasn't trying to be sarcatic when I suggested that parents have the option of sending kids off with a bagged lunch. It's a legit option and I'm all for it. No doubt many will provide a well-rounded meal. And many will not. But it's not government's job to police that even if, and I've seen this, quite a few kids will be eating chips, candy and soda for lunch.

However, for those that want to buy a meal at school why not make it as healthy and delicious as possible. Since when does good food equal socialism?

Perhaps some feel science has not provided definitive proof that junk food diets lead to health problems in kids and adults (despite the research out there), but do clear thinking people really need science to prove what should be obvious with a little common sense.

Kids are fatter, less active and eating a lot of garbage in quantities that were unheard of a generation ago -- would you like to super size that sir?

In our elementary school a 10 minute walk two-three days a week after lunch now constitutes phys ed. Yes, the kids walk a lap or two around the school grounds. That's it. This does't even meet state mandates yet the school has Gatorade in vending machines. This is a problem across the country. Even the most die hard conservative has to recognize that our priorities are upside down.

Posted by James at June 1, 2006 10:03 AM

Chris, listen to you mother...she's right. Just because you hear it from a parent doesn't automatically mean it's worth rebelling against.

Besides I'm certainly no luddite or "health food nut." I like pizza and beer as much as anyone. And I totally embrace cutting-edge technolgy -- just not stuff I ingest.

But I agree, schools should not be 'frisking' lunch bags. We have the right to screw up our own kids anyway we like.

Posted by James at June 1, 2006 10:17 AM

Chris M wrote:

"You sound just like my mom. She is even against genetically engineered crops. A real food ludite. I grew up on that cr*p in the 70s and early 80s, and rejected it all completely as soon as I could buy my own food. I eat anything I like, whenever I like. I love HFCS, and drink 3-4 cans of Dr Pepper a day. I am 5'9" and 148lbs. I trust you health food types about as much as the UFO nuts. My kids are skinny too..."

There are real, scientifically valid reasons to oppose GMO foods (none of which involve nutrition). The most obvious reason to oppose overreliance on GMO foods is biodiversity. European wine grapes and Irish potatoes were nearly wiped out in the 19th century; relying on a single monoculture means trusting in a genetically unstable system. For the Irish, this meant millions without food due to blight.

However, you are perfectly entitled to ignore people who study this for a living. All nutrition aside, what happens if there is a sudden pest/disease that wipes out that single species? Oh well, I'm sure the United States could bounce back after going without, say, corn for twenty years...

You also ignore natural variation. Just because you can sling back 150g of liquid sugar each day and remain at a reasonable weight says nothing about others' abilities to do the same.

Posted by It's spelled "Luddite" at June 1, 2006 11:45 AM

It's spelled "Luddite" wrote
"There are real, scientifically valid reasons to oppose GMO foods..."

Maybe there are and you might have a point about biodiversity but that's that not what has all the foodie's panties in a bunch. They are all frothing at the mouth about killer corn and Frankenfoods. They claim health issues with the GMO foods not environmental ones...

Posted by Fred at June 2, 2006 01:31 PM


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