Regulation writers always face the possibility of unintended consequences, because people do not behave exactly like regulators wish they would. Here is an example. Federal regulators increased standards for school lunch food. This cost American schools quite a bit – $1.2 billion a year in extra costs. So one would hope that students would be a lot healthier as a result. Students get a third to half of their daily calories at school, so healthier meals can make a difference.
Except that many students didn’t like the healthier foods, and chose not to eat at school at all. Here is the story: “…school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in fiscal year 2015, but most states reported a decrease in student participation in the school lunch program.
A 2013-14 school year report (PDF) sponsored by the USDA found that over 60% of school food authorities observed more waste in terms of salad/raw vegetables and cooked vegetables after implementation of the updated standards.
Perdue said that when kids don’t eat, they don’t get the nutrition they need, and this undermines “the intent of the program.”
“A perfect example is in the South, where the schools want to serve grits,” said Perdue, who worked as a veterinarian before serving as a Georgia state senator and governor. “But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it. The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits.”
Now, this is not the end of the story. There is no good benefit cost analysis that would tell us, on nett, whether the $1.2 billion dollars is justified by the health benefits. But it is clear that, when you try to tell people what to eat, they might just make their own decisions.