But an Associated Press review of scientific studies examining 57 such programs found mostly failure. Just four showed any real success in changing the way kids eat - or any promise as weapons against the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
"Any person looking at the published literature about these programs would have to conclude that they are generally not working," said Dr. Tom Baranowski, a pediatrics professor at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine who studies behavioral nutrition.
The results have been disappointing, to say the least:
_Last year a major federal pilot program offering free fruits and vegetables to school children showed fifth graders became less willing to eat them than they had been at the start. Apparently they didn't like the taste.
_In Pennsylvania, researchers went so far as to give prizes to school children who ate fruits and vegetables. That worked while the prizes were offered, but when the researchers came back seven months later the kids had reverted to their original eating habits: soda and chips.
_In studies where children tell researchers they are eating better or exercising more, there is usually no change in blood pressure, body size or cholesterol measures; they want to eat better, they might even think they are, but they're not.
Unfortunately, doctors don't really seem to get it, either:
The forces that make kids fat "are really strong and hard to fight with just a program in school," said Dr. Philip Zeitler, a pediatric endocrinologist and researcher who sees "a steady stream" of obese children struggling with diabetes and other potentially fatal medical problems at The Children's Hospital in Denver.
What does he tell them?
"Oh God, I haven't figured out anything that I know is going to work," he said. "I'm not aware of any medical model that is very successful in helping these kids. Sure, we try to help them, but I can't take credit for the ones who do manage to change."
Tell them to get off the couch, sell the freaking Nintendo, buy a soccer ball, and get their kids outside. Tell them to quit feeding their kids just peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches on Wonderbread - give them some meat, some veggies, and some fun stuff they like.
Sometimes there is a time and place for a 'when I was a kid' story. Here's one. My mom is a hell of a cook. She's from a Southern family, and there were lots of meals in my house that were fried in Crisco. Every dinner had potatoes. Not a worry about fat content.
But every dinner also had a vegatable. There was always fresh fruit in the house. We drank our milk.
I lived on sweet (with real sugar) tea, sodas, cakes, cookies, and potatochips, too. And when I graduated from high school, I was 5 feet 11 inches, and weighed a whopping 135 pounds.
Because I went outside and played. Because when I turned 16, I got a job where I was on my feet. Because I was active. Not a star athlete, not necessarily even a good one. But I was out doing stuff.
This isn't difficult to understand, and it isn't difficult to fix. And goodness knows, we don't need another government program to 'help'.