Saturday, May 12, 2012

School lunch fight pits government regulations against each other

States and school systems around the country have been reformatting cafeteria menus, partly pushed by Michelle Obama’s 2010 “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act,” which essentially has taxpayers triple-paying for the food schools serve under wild and conflicting nutrition regulations, and partly pushed by a desire to be politically correct. This has led to some outrageous incidents, including the recent North Carolina incident where a teacher forced a child to swap her homemade lunch for the school’s chicken nuggets, a Michigan state child obesity registry and tracking system, and now a new set of rules in Massachusettsthat forbid school vending machines, bake sales, door-to-door candy fundraisers, and snacks at after-school events and parties.

The state’s justification is “an obesity epidemic.” And, to be fair, lots of American kids are fat–not pudgy, fat. But does this justify blanketing schools with often conflicting and nonsensical food requirements? Massachusetts State Sen. Susan Fargo thinks so.

“If we didn’t have so many kids that were obese, we could have let things go,” she said. “But this is a major public health problem and these kids deserve a chance at a good, long, healthy life.”

Ah, yes, government. Giver of good, long, healthy lives!

These regulation-happy state officials don’t seem to understand the law of unintended consequences, and this action has several. The problem for them is that some of the unintended consequences pit government regulation against government regulation, with the not-unlikely possibility the public begins to notice the Kafka-esque absurdity of it all.

In first place, public schools depend on private fundraising to fill in many holes in their budgets (even though Massachusetts spends $15,000 per pupil each year, on average; a figure most private schools can only dream of nabbing) such as for band trips, sports equipment, events like prom, and in some cases even new textbooks and classroom supplies. As Massachusetts mom Maura Dawley says, “The goal is to raise money. You’re not going to get that selling apples and bananas.” How will moms like her feel when their kids can’t raise the money to have extra-school activities parents are willing to pay extra to support?

Second, government food programs may have actually contributed to the obesity epidemic school officials are now trying to target. As Mark Bittman pointed out in the New York Times, hunger and obesity are two sides of a coin. Hungry people are much more likely to become obese because they overeat when they suddenly have a stable food supply.

“Of the two edges of the sword of America’s malnutrition — hunger and obesity — the latter is by far the more prevalent and deadly,” Bittman writes. “In New York City perhaps 2 percent of children have “very low food security,” which might mean vitamin deficiencies, a day without food, a loss of weight, a month of being hungry. Meanwhile, 40 percent of New York’s public school students are overweight or obese…”

Bittman criticizes a New York program that gives kids the option of two breakfasts–one in the cafeteria, one on their desks–in an effort to end the stigma of receiving “government cheese.” It can also be fairly noted that kids can also come from homes that have food (whether provided by a parent or another government program) and also eligible be to eat again, taxpayer-paid, when they get to school. More double-eating.

Third is the complete impossibility of officials being able to decide, from their thousand-mile-away government thrones, exactly what school lunch configurations will work for every one of America’s 55 million K-12 students. Hm, perhaps this is why parents used to make their kids’ school lunches. What a  novel idea!

First, they came for the lemonade stands. Then, they came for the ice cream makers. Then, they came for the bake sales…


Hope for thousands who suffer migraines as treatment involving botox is given the green light

Thousands of patients who suffer from migraines will be offered Botox injections on the NHS.  A U-turn by the drugs rationing body NICE yesterday brought provisional approval of the treatment, which combats headaches, nausea and dizziness.

Only patients diagnosed as suffering from chronic migraines will be eligible – 700,000 in the UK.  This is defined as having a headache at least every other day, with a full-blown migraine with dizziness and nausea on eight days of the month.

The procedure involves administering 30 injections of Botox, or botulinum toxin, into the head and neck. Although it is normally used to smooth wrinkles, it is also a muscle relaxant and is thought to paralyse certain areas of tissue that trigger migraines.

In guidelines published in February, NICE initially claimed there was not enough evidence the jabs worked.  But it has changed its mind, and final guidelines approving them are expected in June.

The treatments cost £350 a time. Given every three months, it works out at £1,400 per patient a year.

Wendy Thomas, chief executive of The Migraine Trust, said: ‘Chronic migraine is a disabling condition and in many cases ruins people’s lives.  ‘For patients who suffer from this condition Botox may offer a safe and effective preventative treatment option to help them manage their migraine and improve their quality of life.  'We welcome the recommendation for this treatment option to be made available on the NHS.’

Professor Carole Longson, director of the Health Technology Evaluation Centre at NICE said: ‘Chronic migraines are extremely debilitating and can significantly affect a person’s quality of life.

‘We are pleased that the committee has been able to recommend Botox as a preventative therapy for those adults whose headaches have not improved despite trying at least three other medications and whose headaches are not caused by medication overuse.’

The effectiveness of Botox was only discovered in the early 1990s when women in the US having jabs to smooth out wrinkles noticed their headaches and migraines ceased.

A group of doctors at Wake Forest University Hospital Baptist Centre in North Carolina carried out trials which showed 92 per cent success rates.

Researchers in London have also carried out several clinical trials which have reported 70 per cent of patients suffered 50 per cent fewer migraines.


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