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Are You Kidding Me? You Call That a Metric?

I’ve been trying to improve my overall fitness. Fortunately, it just got easier for me. Pizza and fries are now officially healthy choices. Congress has confirmed that both count as vegetables in school lunches. I am going to increase my consumption of both, as we are supposed to load up our diets with produce, right?

This falls squarely into the “Are You &**#@ Kidding Me?” category.

Apparently, schools will soon be getting credit for providing healthier food to kids because of a reclassification of foods. So, in an instant, the youth of our nation will suddenly become healthier. On paper.

That’s the problem with metrics and data collection. If you lose sight of the goals and focus on the metrics, you’ve lost the battle. The goal of the dietary guideline is not budget, convenience, or waste. It is health. And nobody in their right minds should think that kids are better off because they eat pizza. Guess who played a big role in this decision. (Hint: It wasn’t someone with a medical or nutrition background.) Here’s a quote from the article linked to above:

“This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

“Are You &**#@ Kidding Me?”

This is a classic case of perverting the metrics. In effect, the metric is meaningless. It is the equivalent of an umbrella company reclassifying holes in their products as ‘enhanced ventilation’, and claiming that quality is good.

So, the Lean takeaway from this? Always ask yourself if hitting the metric will make you get closer to your goal, or further from it. There will always be a cost to hitting metrics. If it was easy, you would not be measuring it. Don’t let a local cost override the big picture purpose of tracking the data in the first place.

When you tweak your data collection methods for convenience or cost reasons, ask yourself if the customer is better off because of it. You are better off eliminating a metric that has been twisted around than to pretend that it is indicating success. For the schools, I would far rather that they get rid of the food standards altogether rather than patting themselves on their backs when kids ask for a second serving of these ‘vegetables’.

Really, Congress, “are You &**#@ Kidding Me?”

 

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2 Comments

  • Mark Welch says:

    Agree with you 100% on your main point, Jeff. Regarding the pizza and fries, yeah, it’s a no-brainer that they shouldn’t be on the healthy choice list, but given that lobbying and campaign contributions heavily influence laws and standards that get passed, it’s no surprise, really. I wonder how much money the American Frozen Foods Institude paid congressmen,either in campaign contributions or through other methods, to keep pizza and fries on the list…

    • Jeff Hajek says:

      Mark,
      It always comes back to a question of alignment. Congressmen have competing agendas. They have to be in office to do the right thing, but have to get money to stay in office, which means they are susceptible to lobbying.
      When I see a problem around a metric, one of my early actions is always to check if there are mismatched goals of the people/groups involved.
      As always, thanks for your comments.
      Jeff

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