Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Neo-prohibitionism, child obesity edition

"The recently passed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (PDF) offers some positive steps to improve how our children eat in schools. But in trying to make schools nutritional oases, public health officials have unwittingly unleashed the black market genie ready and able to fill the void left by departing sodas and snacks. Now, budding student entrepreneurs are rushing in to meet the demand for snacks and beverages that are no longer available legitimately.

Once again, well-intended legislation has not considered how market forces might affect the intended outcomes. Here are some examples:

• Following the passage of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which banned candy, enterprising students at Austin High began selling bags full of candy at premium prices, with some reportedly making up to $200 per week.

• Similarly, young entrepreneurs at one Boca Raton (Florida) middle school make runs to the local Costco and buy candy bars, doughnuts, and other high-calorie snacks in bulk. They then offer these goodies for sale in an environment that has supposedly eradicated such goodies.

• An eighth-grade student body vice president in Connecticut was forced to resign after buying Skittles from an underground "dealer."

• The U.K. has also seen its share of black market trade in banned foods, snacks, and beverages, with schools in Oxford, Dorset, and Essex reporting healthy underground markets trading in food contraband. The plots ranged from kids selling McDonald's hamburgers in playgrounds to bicycle-riding entrepreneurs hauling bags of soft drinks and milk chocolate for sale."


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