This is California, of course:
The Assembly has passed a bill to set minimum standards for food in licensed child-care centers, requiring a vegetable to be part of lunch and supper and forbidding whole milk for children 2 or older.
The food children eat in kindergarten through 12th grade in public school is regulated for fat and salt content, among other things. But for many preschool children, there have been no such dietary rules.
“California enjoys a worldwide reputation for its sunny, healthy lifestyle,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). “Childhood obesity rates threaten to steal this enviable position.”
The bill, which passed the Assembly on Wednesday by a 48-27 vote, now heads to the Senate.
If it becomes law, AB 627 would require low-fat or skim milk to be served to children 2 years old and older. It would limit sugar in cereals and eliminate deep frying and sweetened drinks. It also would establish an 18-month pilot project to evaluate stronger nutrition and physical activities standards.
In Los Angeles County, 350,000 children 5 and younger spend at least a part of their day in child care. The county licenses 2,230 child-care centers and about 7,800 family child-care homes.
Food served at child-care centers based in homes, community centers, churches and other locations is one key to a lifetime of healthy eating, said Matthew Sharp, senior advocate with the California Food Policy Advocates, which sponsored the bill.
“We can’t possibly solve the healthcare crisis” without nutritional improvements, Sharp said. “We’re paying one way or another.”
And here’s the relevant text of the bill:
SEC. 3. Section 1596.804 is added to the Health and Safety Code, to read:
1596.804. As a condition of licensure, child day care facilities shall comply with all of the following health requirements:
(a) Only 2 percent milk shall be served to children over two years of age.
(b) Juice shall be limited to one serving per day, and only 100 percent juice shall be served.
(c) At least one vegetable shall be served at lunch and supper.
(d) Deep fat frying shall be prohibited onsite.
(e) Sugar shall be limited to 6 grams per serving for both hot and cold cereals.
(f) For children in full day care, screen time, including, but not limited to, television, video games, and computer usage, shall be limited to a maximum of one hour per day and shall be limited to educational programming or programs that encourage movement. For children in less than full day care, screen time shall be reduced proportionately.
Note that these aren’t public schools; in public schools it’s appropriate for the state to take an interest in the food being served. Nor would the rules apply only to providers receiving state subsidies for children’s meals. Unless I’m reading the law incorrectly, these are competitive, private day care centers, with no connection to the government beyond receiving the required business license.
The bill’s goals may seem innocuous or even beneficial. But if politicians can intervene in the agreements between parents and private day care providers to tell them what kind of milk to buy, are there any limits to what comes next? Restaurants are licensed by the government and serve children too, and I’m sure many of their kids’ menus conflict with Julia Brownley’s idea of California’s “sunny, healthy lifestyle.” Why not dictate their menus? And after we’ve done that, why not go after adults’ food? Once state licensing standards cross the line from ensuring hygiene and safety to controlling consumers’ diets, there’s no limit to what options may be taken away.
[Via Virginia Postrel.]