Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Please Pass the Cake

Please Pass the Cake

By Sandy Szwarc
Published 01/18/2005

"You'll have to stop this now. It's getting altogether too silly." --- comedian Graham Chapman (1941-1989)

As incredible as it sounds, nutrition is no longer the priority for the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new guidelines put the entire nation on a diet and its key message is "eat less and exercise more to lose weight." This certainly isn't an unprecedented idea, but decades of following this advice has also shown it doesn't work. Tragically, the unsupportable and erroneous information about weight and nutrition in these new guidelines isn't just innocuous, but will likely have harmful consequences far beyond any good it might do, especially threatening our children and elderly.

When food guides were begun over 100 years ago, the government was tasked to make recommendations on the minimum number of servings of various food groups to ensure the general population could meet the recommended dietary allowances of nutrients. People were free to choose what additional foods they wanted to enjoy to make up their energy needs. That changed in 1977 when politicians got involved and its focus became outlining the goals for federal food programs, and hence what foods would receive government funding. From then on, as a glut of special interests sought to get their piece of the money pie, it has moved further from sound science. And not surprisingly, it's become increasingly questioned among nutrition scientists and health care professionals.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines became untenable the instant they abandoned the long-term pledge to promote better health for all Americans and instead made everything about weight. "Weight" appears 150 times in the 84-page document. We're told that being thin is more important than being healthy and that good nutrition isn't just eating a healthful balance of nutritious foods. Our focus must become counting calories, restricting what we eat, eating low-fat or fat-free foods, and what size pants we wear.

While plenty rush to capitalize on these guidelines, others want to abolish our freedom to enjoy a variety of foods of our own choosing and are using these guidelines as their grounds. Already, there are calls for the government to take more aggressive action to enforce the guidelines. A press release by the Center for Science in the Public Interest wants vigorous governmental efforts made to publicize them, increased funding for programs that promote them, laws passed to require "calorie labeling on menus at chain restaurants," and regulatory agencies to require the food industry to implement them and eliminate the use of bad fats and lower the current limits on fat and salt.


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