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June 2012
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EXORCISED Saga of pink cookie a case of overreach

The latest chapter in the book of government overreach is the saga of the Elyria, Ohio, pink cookie.

The pink cookie was a 40-year tradition in the Elyria City Schools. In 2009 Cleveland Magazine named it "Best Cafeteria Cookie".

"This cookie has a cult following," the town's mayor, Holly Brinda, told Fox News. "I grew up eating them," she said. "They are a comfort food. It's one of those things that's special to our community."

Unfortunately for the pink cookie, the recipe for the icing calls for a pound of butter and six cups of powdered sugar. That translates into a cookie that has more than 200 calories, and that in turn, violates the rules of the federal food police.

The USDA's "Smart Snacks in Schools" standards now control what kinds of goodies schools can have on their cafeteria menus and 200-plus calorie cookies are out. "We can't have them in the cafeteria for sale, period," food services director Scott Teaman told the local newspaper. "The guidelines for the snacks are very strict, and there is no wiggle room."

School officials did attempt to modify the recipe using whole-wheat flour, but the experiment was a flop. People who tried it equated it to eating diet potato chips. So the school district ended production of the cookie, and students wanting snacks now must content themselves with fruit, vegetables or yogurt.

We don't make light of the growing problem of childhood obesity in this country. It is a serious problem that has bad long-term implications both for children and for the eventual health care costs American taxpayers will have to foot as such children age and develop weight-related health problems.

But as we have also pointed out in the past, the solution to the obesity problem lies not in the schools but in the home. Schools can and should offer healthy items on their menus. But as with most other aspects of school operations, we think the ultimate decisions about what can and cannot be included on the menus should be local. The Founders never intended the federal government to meddle in the operations of schools to the extent it does today.

And when it comes to food, the federal government seems not to have learned what every parent has - you can put healthy items on the table: peas, broccoli, and carrots, for instance; but getting kids to eat them is an entirely different matter.

The feds can load up school lunch menus with mandatory vegetables and yogurt bars, but if kids simply skip eating them and then down a box a Twinkies as soon as they get home because parents don't care, nothing is accomplished.

It is the home environment and the rules and expectations in the home that ultimately will decide whether children have healthy or unhealthy diets. An occasional pink cookie at school is not going to have a material impact on that.

If there must be federal meddling in schools, an area where it might have more positive impact on the obesity problem would be by seeking to expand physical education programs and after-school athletic activities for students - club sports like lacrosse and field hockey for instance, and intramural sports like football and basketball. The more children involved in such after-school hobby sports, the better, and government might be able to facilitate that.

We think promoting more athleticism, not counting menu calories, is probably the most effective approach government could take to producing healthier students.

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