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Forum editorial: Day care regulation overkill?

Day care regulations that were approved last month indicate the Fargo City Commission’s heart is in the right place, but its head is not. The rules are a useful official expression of concern about childhood obesity, but in practice are unlikely to tip the scales one way or the other.

Prompted by suggestions from Fargo Cass Public Health, the city’s rules smell of local government overreach, not because the instinct is wrong but because they read like solutions looking for a problem. That’s not to say obesity in kids is not a problem. By all credible measures, it is. But the inherent assumption in a city mandate is that licensed day cares offer up fat and sugar for the kids, rather than a balanced, healthy diet; and that children are subjected to the alleged evils of electronic media for more than an hour per day. There is no compelling evidence that is the case.

There also is an assumption in the rules that parents are routinely irresponsible when it comes to selecting a day care provider. While some parents are, the experience of most providers is the opposite: Most parents do a detailed review of a potential provider, including menus, exercise/play time, cleanliness of the facility, staff competence, and exposure to television, for example. Furthermore, licensed providers are subject to health and safety inspections by public agencies. No provider who wants to stay in business can afford to either dismiss parental scrutiny or fail inspections.

Finally, the new rules affecting diet and play time (cobbled together with public health) are a one-size-fits-all remedy that does not necessarily take into account the unique needs of some children. In concert with parents, providers consider such factors when scheduling a child’s day. Piling on the city’s regulatory mandate might be overkill.

Again, it should be underlined: The instinct to develop strategies to reduce childhood obesity, and thus improve kids’ health, is not in question. It’s the right way to go. But there is reason to doubt that the city’s day care regulations will make a dram of difference.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.