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Our Views: A weighty intrusion
Obesity bill would bypass parents, burden schools
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Remember when the Republicans were the party that favored a less intrusive government?

Evidently, something changed when they took over control of the Georgia General Assembly a few years back.

Over the past few years, GOP leaders in the legislature have denied Georgians the ability to vote on whether they want statewide Sunday alcohol sales. It's just that legislators disapprove of the sales; they don't even want us to decide for ourselves. That would smack of democracy, one supposes. Best to have a vocal, politically active minority decide these things for us.

If that wasn't bad enough, now this: Last week, the Senate passed a bill requiring schools to screen students for obesity.

According to the bill, schools would be made to check their students' body-mass index twice a year and keep the stats on record. Parents would be notified, and the individual BMI scores would be kept confidential.

However, the schools would combine their BMI totals into an average, which would be posted on the school Web site. The state Board of Education would compile the data and monitor schools whose aggregate BMI is considered too high.

Forget Big Brother. Hello, Fat Police.

This is yet another foray into the notion of having the school raise our children, not just educate them. The more mandates government puts on schools to care for kids, the less resources the schools can spend on what is supposed to be their main duty. Schools should keep their focus on teaching our kids reading, math, science, social studies and the fine arts, not managing all aspects of their lives.

That's not enough for some legislators, though, apparently convinced that the smart people on the state payroll know better than the rest of us.

"I know it's the parents' responsibility, but at some point the state needs to step in and help out," said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, a former nurse who serves on the Senate health committee.

The state needs to help out? That's a Republican talking? Somewhere in the great beyond, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan are shaking their heads.

No, what the state needs to do is let parents be parents, for better or worse, even if some officials differ on their methods of raising children. Such a patronizing approach by the government officials we hire is simply obnoxious.

Local school officials commenting on the law have been supportive, but chalk that up to their unflagging commitment to what's best for children. They have to be wondering as well just how much extra burden government is going to force on their heavy workload.

This is not to say that childhood obesity isn't a problem. The combination of junk food, video games and myriad TV channels is turning youngsters into couch potatoes at an early age. That can lead to a number of health problems in adolescence and beyond, including diabetes and heart disease.

It's fine for government and schools to help educate parents about childhood obesity so they can make better choices. That's a key part of its role, to give citizens the tools they need to prosper and succeed.
But information is plenty. If a kid is overweight, mom and dad know it, whatever the BMI happens to be. Give them the facts and let them decide what to do.

If schools want to be more proactive, they could try this: Get rid of the soft drink and snack machines on campus that were put there as part of a sponsorship deal. It's hypocritical of school officials to send a note home to parents that their kids are overweight, then turn around and count the change out of the drink machines. Many school systems finally realized this and have replaced the cupcakes and sugary drinks with healthier alternatives.

Here's another idea for healthier kids that the schools can control: Re-introduce physical education. Kids are too heavy not just because of what they eat, but because they don't play outside enough. Today's P.E. classes often are limited in time and scope and don't involve enough strenuous activity to keep youngsters active.

One reason for that is that schools are trying to cram in more instruction time in order to meet grade requirements and prepare students for the battery of standardized tests they face each year. Those scores determine whether students can move up a grade, and whether school administrators can keep their government funding and ultimately their jobs. So P.E., a useful hedge against a sloth-like school day, got tossed out with the bathwater, as did other crucial disciplines like music, art and foreign languages.

Our state's school system, despite the laudable efforts of many selfless, hard-working teachers, has come up short in many measurable areas, SAT scores and graduation rates chief among them. So why not focus on fixing those problems by getting back to the basics of learning rather than add a whole extra layer of oversight to our overtaxed schools?

For this, you can blame No Child Left Behind. Or blame the increased desire by some administrators to take over the role of child-rearing. Or blame government for putting on its nanny apron and taking over a job it feels isn't being done properly.

And while we're at it, we can blame ourselves for electing lawmakers who simply can't keep their noses out of what should be a family's business.