Pizza as a vegetable?
I am pretty disheartened by our government and the way things get done in Washington. The latest news item to earn my ire was last week's 60 Minutes story about how Congress is exempt from insider trading laws.
People in political office are becoming wealthy as a result of their public service. If we as ordinary citizens were to trade on insider information, we'd go to jail. Exempting Congress is not right, but that's just the latest example of how our government representatives put themselves ahead of the American people.
Congressional approval is at an all time low -- just 9 percent -- for good reason. Last week, in the debate over how to reduce childhood obesity, Congress effectively declared pizza to be a vegetable. Actually, what they did was to make it easier for the amount of tomato sauce that is on a pizza to satisfy school lunch nutritional regulations.
The end result is the same. Pizza, by congressional action, now satisfies the vegetable requirement for school lunches. You've got to be kidding me. Simple common sense once again gives way to special interests and legal hair splitting.
I just finished reviewing scientific grant proposals for the government-funded Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. Several proposals I read suggested targeting childhood obesity as a cancer preventative since we know that cancer and obesity are closely related in adulthood. One idea was to teach inner-city kids about good nutrition by having them plant vegetable gardens and learn to grow the food they consume at lunchtime. These are kids who become obese because they know nothing about good nutrition and healthy eating. There is no one at home to teach them.
But why even bother having a program to teach good nutrition if the government itself is just going to undermine the effort? If Congress can't agree that banning pizza and soft drinks from school lunches is a good idea as a first step toward dealing with childhood obesity, how on earth are they going to tackle the even more pressing and controversial issues facing our nation?
The fact of the matter is that our national debt is tied directly to our nation's health. If we ever want to do something about getting skyrocketing medical costs under control, we need to do something about the root causes to our poor health as a nation, including common addictions, a generally poor diet and lack of exercise in our daily life.
What could be more important? Imagine how much money we could save if government focused on drug and alcohol addiction, reducing obesity and promoting wellness. It would be transformative to our physical and financial health. We need political leadership to get there.
The truth is that government helped to create the lung cancer epidemic we have today. Generations of Americans have been addicted to nicotine thanks to the misguided notion that cigarettes in GI mess kits would be a good idea. (I would not be at all surprised to learn that big tobacco lobbied Congress to get cigarettes into mess kits, just as the frozen pizza industry lobbied to get pizza into school lunch programs.) What is good for public health was not a consideration.
The consequences of smoking only came to light years after GIs returned home addicted to nicotine. According to various Internet sources, smoking in the U.S. jumped 75 percent from 1940 to 1945 with the average annual consumption hitting a heart-stopping 3,500 cigarettes per person.
Cigarette addiction is one of the major reasons that heart disease and lung cancer are today the two leading causes of death in the United States.
Childhood obesity in America is a similar slow moving train wreck. Significantly higher rates of diabetes and cancer are on the horizon if we don't get the obesity problem under control. Banning pizza and soft drinks from school lunches would be a good start.