You probably already know the background story: a few weeks ago, Sarah Palin brought cookies to a class in Buck’s County, PA. The purpose? To protest a “school cookie ban” and to “intro kids 2 beauty of laissez-faire.” Never mind that there is no such ban being discussed in Pennsylvania, or that the school she visited wasn’t even a public school.
While Palin doles out cookies, she also dishes up rhetoric on how families deserve the freedom to make choices for their families.On the Laura Ingraham Show last week, she said,
“Take [Michelle Obama’s] anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And I know I'm going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician's wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track.”
But Palin’s actions themselves replicate the very problem she’s supposedly critiquing—and the problem that Michelle Obama is trying to solve.
Parents, in large part, don’t get to decide what their kids eat.
If Sarah Palin had shown up at the door of my son’s kindergarten class with fresh baked cookies, he would have been at the front of the line. And I wouldn’t have been able to do a thing about it. Like most parents, I work full time, and I depend on my school—and its food policies—to protect my son’s health when I’m not around.
We eat healthily at home, and I want that to continue at school. But people—like Sarah Palin, like big food corporations—who have more power and resources than I do, take that decision away from me. She sounds just like the big corporations that think they can shovel junk and empty calories onto our children’s plates five days a week, then serve it to them via unrelenting advertising on tv and televisions—and then turn around and blame parents and families if their kids are overweight.
As parents we rely on policies that protect our health, and the health of our children—seatbelt laws, or laws to get lead out of paint and Bisphenol A out of toys. At Prevention Institute, we help communities use policy change to decrease barriers and to give families more options. We helped support the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and are working right now with the very neighborhoods that Palin is criticizing, through Communities Putting Prevention to Work.
Want to hear what parents and families are doing right now with that money?
The Cincinnati Public School system has implemented new guidelines for foods and beverages sold in schools, limiting calories, certain nutrients and portion size. That's 34,000 children eating healthier, in one city alone (and in a county where one out of five third graders are overweight).
In Louisville, three ‘Healthy Corner Stores’ have already opened up in a ‘food desert’ neighborhood where there was almost no fresh food. By March 2012, they’ll have opened nine stores, bringing literally thousands more servings of fruits and vegetables to those families. Plus, they’re giving local store owners new equipment, business planning, and minor construction improvements—making the economy as healthy as the neighborhood.
And in South Carolina, they’ve raised the cigarette tax for the first time in 33 years—a move they estimate will ensure that more than 23,000 children under the age of eighteen in South Carolina will never become smokers.
Community prevention is the essence of families working to "exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions." It’s about helping neighborhoods to work together with local businesses, community groups and local health departments to figure out the best ways to build health where they live—whether that’s putting more fruits and vegetables on a child’s school lunch plate, or making the local park safer so a mom doesn’t have to put her kid in front of the tv to make sure he’s out of danger.
Parents care deeply about the health of their children, and we are ready for policies that help support us in doing just that. No kid will turn down a cookie—and no parent wants someone else deciding what’s on their kid’s plate. Michelle Obama, Let’s Move and community prevention money don’t come bearing empty calories and a sweet promise, they come bearing something substantial—a healthy meal for my son, so that I can decide when he gets a cookie, not Sarah Palin.