Concern over "unhealthy" foods in schools is increasing, and schools, local governments, and even Congress are reacting with more policies designed to ban or limit these foods. For example, the author of the article writes:
Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.
These measures are certainly well-intentioned. Like many other good intentions, however, they face the hard reality that paternalistic measures often fail to change behavior, or do so in counter-productive ways. Indeed, this reporter's experience suggests that even when practiced by well-intentioned parents, paternalism can backfire:
Early in my children's lives, I was a no-sugar, no-fat mom, the legacy of my own childhood with a constantly dieting mother. I thought I was doing the right thing, until a friend told me that every time my children stayed at her house, the first thing they did was ask for ice cream. With sprinkles. And chocolate chips. And gummy worms. By rigidly restricting their sugar intake, I had made it a highly sought out pleasure — the last thing I'd intended.
I can attest to such adverse consequences from my own experience. My parent forbade all TV on weekdays, and often on weekends. I am now a total addict.
I do not mean to imply that parents should not try to guide their children toward sensible decisions. But less is sometimes more. And that applies far more cogently when the deicision maker is government. In that case the decisions impact people with different preferences, needs, and abilities, so the right outcome likely varies enormously.