Eat Less

The US Department of Agriculture a recommendation that stated that “Americans need to eat less”.

Really.

That’s the best the government could come up with? Eat less?

Newsflash to the policy folks who probably wrote 100 drafts of this recommendation before they came to this conclusion – the American people already know this. Kids as young as 5 and as old as 90 know EXACTLY what to eat, and may even know how much of it to eat. However, when placed in front of a bowl of Doritos and a bowl of carrots – needless to say, for most of us, that orange around our mouths isn’t going to be carrot juice.

I suppose it is the government’s job to turn common sense into policy statement – but this is a bit too simplistic.

It’s no different than taking a client out of rehab and saying – “drink less” while giving him a gift card to a beverage warehouse.

Or perhaps like asking a heroin addict to “use less” – while installing him in a halfway house next to a drug dealer’s operation and handing him a quiver full of needles.

Our country and media have become what Yale’s Kelly Brownell terms a “toxic food environment.” While the government and the Public Service Announcements softly and gently tell us to eat less, and watch our sugar, the far sexier food companies feature pounding ads with $2 hamburgers, buxom blonds hawking pizza, and catchy jingles (the broccoli lobby may want to invest in a new publicist). It’s like trying to sell abstinence in Vegas. We tell kids one thing (eat veggies), but when is the last time your child’s sweet potato came with a miniature Tonka truck?

If the government really wants us to “eat less” – then it needs to man up and start taking on the food lobby and the restaurant industry. We have incentivized the production of cheap, non-nutritive, sugar, fat and sodium rich food. And most of us actually think it tastes good – the ultimate quick fix. The LA Times astutely points out just as this Eat Less policy statement comes out – serving sizes at fast food restaurants are getting bigger all the time. It costs them pennies to supersize these meals – and these pennies are adding to billions of dollars in health care costs for all of us.

I teach at an urban university where many of my students make it on a creative combination of no time, tight incomes and financial aid. It’s tough to argue with them about eating right or less or whatever – when the burger special for $3 that they can eat in the car will fill them up.

Word to the government – tell me something I don’t know. Or better yet – step up, let’s see if Obama’s new policy on school meals takes flight (as of now, research suggests that kids who eat hot lunch at school tend to be more obese than the kids who bring it from home), bring vegetables on an comparable cost basis with unhealthy options, consider a junk food tax – it worked well in California with cigarettes. And make no mistake – the net effect of obesity as we see it now will have health effects much like cigarettes – we are starting to see the net effect of all of that unchecked smoking prior to the Surgeon General’s warning – in 30 years we may start shaking our heads about why we couldn’t see how this bad food thing was going to play out. And I will hear it from all the folks that say – what I eat isn’t the government’s business – I suppose maybe it’s not – but Americans are notoriously undisciplined – and this time – the thing that we are trying to fix isn’t booze, drugs, sex, or cigarettes – it is something kids have to consume. It’s a different game this time.

We all know what a healthy meal looks like. We also know we should avoid smoking, drink in moderation, use sunscreen, use condoms, and floss daily. And you see how well we are doing with all of that.

Knowledge is the booby prize. Knowing isn’t doing. It’s all about making a change. And sometimes we need a little help with that. If the true cost of eating junk food were calculated into our food bills –well… that $75 dollar burger wouldn’t look so tempting.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 at 6:31 pm and is filed under Health and Wellness, Weight Loss, Diet, and Exercise. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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