If Republicans don't want reforms to make health care more affordable, they should at least be willing to support new dietary rules in school lunch programs to promote healthier children. That would help stem the surging epidemics of childhood obesity and related diabetes, which now afflict an astonishing one-third of American children. But no, Republicans favor giant food conglomerates over healthier children.
They've already killed efforts to levy a moderate tax on addictive sugary sodas to reduce heavy consumption of such drinks. On Tuesday, House and Senate Republicans joined ranks to defeat a proposal by the Department of Agriculture aimed at reducing students' consumption of french fries and pizzas, two of the most popular -- and fat-and-sodium-laden -- items on school lunch menus.
They did so after a call-to-arms by lobbyists from food conglomerates like ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods, and makers of frozen pizza. The companies claimed new school lunch standards would raise school lunch prices by $6.8 billion over the next five years, and would result in students wasting unwanted vegetables on their plates. They didn't mention a possible dent in their profits, of course, but that was surely what they most wanted to protect.
Students' health certainly was not on their minds. The new standards would have raised vegetable standards only slightly. One would have required more than the current minimum of nearly a quarter of a cup of tomato paste on pizzas to qualify for a tomato-as-vegetable credit -- a move in line with current vegetable-credit servings of other pureed vegetables. Another would have required more green vegetables in place of potatoes, which are often served as fat-laden french fries, the leading fat-and-diabetes-inducing food among children and adults.
In all, Agriculture's new nutritional standards for school lunches would have added just 14 cents to the cost of school lunches over the next five years. It also would have halved current sodium levels over the next 10 years, and helped constrain the obesity epidemic that now threatens to overwhelm families and the nation's health care system.
But tell that to Republican lawmakers. They masquerade their disregard for raising nutritional and health standards across the board by railing to the naive mainstream about the specter of a nanny-state. But all they really want is money and political support from corporate giants.