Mona Charen

"The closest thing to immortality on this Earth," Ronald Reagan once said, "is a federal government program." We still have a Rural Electrification Administration for Heaven's sake (though it's been renamed) -- FDR's program to bring electrical power to rural areas.

No problem that the federal government undertakes to tackle can ever be recognized as solved because to do so would mean the dissolution of an agency. And if the federal program creates new problems, well, those are then excuses for new agencies.

Consider the problem of obesity. Under the leadership of the first lady, the Obama administration has unveiled a series of proposals to combat obesity in children. Among the 70 recommendations: new federal subsidies for fruits and vegetables; taxes on sodas, candy, and junk food; and mandates on federally funded and private health programs to cover obesity-related problems.

Mrs. Obama and her crack team of federal do-gooders did not consider that the federal government is also in the business of feeding a significant portion of the population.

The scale of federal nutrition programs is actually quite staggering. One in eight adult Americans now receives food stamps, along with 25 percent of children. More than half of all American infants are on the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program. Sixty-two percent of American schoolchildren who eat school lunches are getting free or reduced-price meals.

How in the world did programs intended to keep the neediest Americans from malnutrition end up feeding -- even overfeeding -- such a huge percentage of the population?

The WIC program is instructive. It was enacted in 1972 to provide food, nutrition counseling, and referrals to health and other social services for needy pregnant and nursing women and their children up to age 5. Who can be opposed to that? In 1977, as Douglas Besharov of the University of Maryland documents in a study of the program, WIC covered about 4 percent of women and children and 6 percent of infants. By 2006, it had stretched to include 30 percent of pregnant women, 51 percent of infants, and 25 percent of young children.

Receiving benefits from one federal nutrition program does not affect eligibility for others. So nothing prevents someone who gets WIC from also getting food stamps and free or discounted school lunches and breakfasts.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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