The First Lady’s campaign to lower child obesity and ensure that children are eating healthfully at school has not gone as planned. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, strongly supported by Michelle Obama, authorized the US Department of Agriculture to set nutrition standards for the lunches provided at schools. These regulations and strict nutrition standards have been met with criticism by school officials and food companies. Just recently, the Nicolet High School in the Glendale school district of Wisconsin has left the healthy school lunch program established by the act, citing the financial burden of the regulations. According to the district’s business manager,the mandate cost the school $10,000; and their students, faced with unfamiliar food, simply threw the required menu items away.
Despite the backlash over the financial hardships inflicted on schools by the healthy eating regulations, the Obama administration has decided to try its luck with implementing new programs to encourage lower-income adults to eat healthier. The USDA recently released an 80 page report on different programs that grocery stores can implement in order to incentivize adults, particularly those on food stamps, to buy healthier items. One of these programs is the so-called “MyCart,” a specially designed shopping cart that is color coded and divided into sections identifying healthy food groups. When the shopper has put enough healthy food items in the cart, it will notify the shopper that he or she is available for a reward, such as a movie ticket or a discount.
The USDA report estimates that the new shopping carts will cost every supermarket a cool $30,000, resulting in higher prices for customers. According to Washington’s Free Beacon, grocery store chain Safeway Inc. would have to spend $40.05 million to implement the shopping carts at its 1,335 stores in the United States.
Obviously, these costs will need to be paid for somehow…and the consumers these regulations are supposedly going to help will be the ones picking up the bill. While there is diverse debate about how to get the country healthier, there is little consensus that making food more expensive will achieve that goal. Rather than craft clever programs that will raise grocery store prices, perhaps the USDA could put a little more thought into harmful policies that currently price lower-income earners out of healthful options.