THE BLOG

Ontario's Healthy Menu Program is a Disaster for School Cafeterias

02/21/2014 05:32 EST | Updated 04/23/2014 05:59 EDT

When Dalton McGuinty first announced the program to remove deep-fried foods and meals high in fat, sugar, and sodium from high school cafeterias, it was treated like a silver bullet to address growing obesity levels.

Of course, the government did not consider the simple fact that high school students have a choice. They are not forced to stay on campus to eat. When cafeterias stopped serving the kinds of foods teenagers like to eat, those teenagers simply got in their cars, on their bikes or walked to the places that did serve their favourite foods.

Is it really that surprising that students prefer inexpensive fast-food meals like a burger and fries, instead of overpriced and smaller portioned salads from government-approved cafeteria menus? Like Homer Simpson taught his daughter Lisa, "You don't win friends with salad!" And the government's healthy menus program is certainly not winning any friends in Ontario's high schools.

As Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk told us in December, Ontario's Healthy Eating program has been a complete and utter failure. Cafeteria sales across Ontario plummeted 25 to 45 per cent, while vending machine sales have fallen by as much as 85 per cent. Larger school districts like Ottawa and Toronto are reporting millions in lost revenues, money that is earmarked to support field trips, tournaments, and other extra-curricular activities.

Despite this scathing AG report, the Ministry of Education announced last month that it was doubling down on the initiative, doling out another $2.2 million for Healthy Eating Grants to high schools on top of the $3 million for Ontario's Student Nutrition Program. Instead of looking at why this program has not worked, the Wynne government is simply throwing more money at the failed program.

This isn't the first time an activist government has tried to fight obesity and failed.

In 2011, Denmark introduced the world's first fat tax. It was unanimously passed by the government and aimed to tax fatty foods to improve public health and offset health care costs associated with obesity. In practice, this tax was a bureaucratic nightmare that caused food prices to soar.

Much like high school students in Ontario, Danish consumers voted with their feet and their wallets, and met their cravings elsewhere. One study found that 48 per cent of Danes resorted to cross-border grocery shopping in nearby Germany to avoid the fat taxes.

A little over a year later, after its economy lost an estimated $1.8 billion, the Danish government abolished the much-hated fat tax.

What do you do with a failed government program that has backfired? In Denmark, the government unanimously agreed to revoke the fat tax. In Ontario, instead of examining the data and considering factors like behavior and incentives, the Wynne Government has just designed another way to expand the program and spend more money. This government is dead set on altering our behavior and changing the foods we like to eat, regardless of the cost to taxpayers, the unintended consequences or whether it's actually working.

Forget about overweight students, the weight of our government is the real problem in Ontario.

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