Fried food and soda back in Texas schools. How does this help obesity?

A decade-old ban on deep fryers and soda has been lifted in Texas public schools. New Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller says giving back control at the local level may lead to different results in the fight against obesity.

Eric Gay/AP
New Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller talks about the state's plans to repeal a decade-old ban on deep fryers in public school kitchens, Thursday, June 18, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Miller is also lifting restrictions on soft drinks in school vending machines.

A decade-old statewide ban on deep fryers and soda machines was lifted by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Thursday, The Texas Tribune reported.

The plan is part of an anti-obesity campaign in Texas. A core part of the policy, on top of lifting the ban, is to bring local, farm-raised food to schools. According to a statement released by the Commissioner’s office, the policy is also designed to build community and student involvement in nutrition at a school district level, “where families and community leaders are in the best position to make decisions about what works for the children they serve.”

The policy goes into effect July 1.

If putting soda and fries back in the mix seems counterintuitive, Mr. Miller said in a post to his Facebook page that he believed control over food needed to be more local:

“Michelle Obama and liberal do gooder friends don't like this, but they just don't understand. This isn't about French Fries – its about Freedom. I believe we need fewer state and federal mandates and more local control.”

He called for the halt to “healthy trash cans” – a common complaint among critics of Federal mandates for more nutritious food served at schools, who describe packed trash cans with nixed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at the end of school lunchtime.

Obesity continues to rise in Texas, and throughout the country. In 2013, 16 percent of high school students in Texas were obese, a two percent increase from 2005. Nationwide, child obesity rates have jumped from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012. Among minorities, the rates for children and adolescents were significantly higher, with Hispanics at 22 percent and non-Hispanic black youth at 20 percent, The Texas Tribune reported.

An op-ed that ran in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday pushed back on the idea that deregulation is the way toward healthier choices. The policy, the editorial board said, is "about the health of Texas schoolchildren and recognizing that if you give a child a choice between water and Coke, the kid is going to pick Coke every time."

Miller’s new policy will also give schools greater flexibility to fundraise throughout the year. School groups can now fundraise by selling candy and soda during school time up to six times per year on school grounds and during school time, up from once a year.

Control, Miller says, should also lead to change.

“What we have been doing to fight childhood obesity for the last ten years has not solved the epidemic in Texas, and in fact, it’s gotten worse,” Commissioner Miller said. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.