The U.S. government has been putting out dietary guidelines since 1980, telling us to eat less fatty and fried foods and more fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and fish. But only this year did it start with warnings about obesity and advice to reduce total food intake.
The new guidelines grew out of a five-year study by a committee of experts, which declared that “the obesity epidemic is the single greatest threat to public health in this century.” It said this was true especially for children, whose “obesity has tripled in the past thirty years.”
So the 2010 guidelines, in a nutshell, start off by advising, “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” and “Avoid oversized portions.”
The summary continues:
“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
“Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
“Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers.
“Drink water instead of sugary drinks.”
The new recommendations “clearly favor the health and well-being of consumers over hard-lobbying farm lobbyists,” wrote Jane E. Brody, the New York Times personal health columnist.
Such lobbyists include the meat and dairy industries, pushing thick rare steaks and rich ice cream, says the UMaine dietician Katherine Musgrave. Or Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM, with its adamant defense of its high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks and processed foods. This in the face of a recent Princeton study showing that rats grow fat and obese on it and a move by The Corn Refiners Association to change the name to “corn sugar.”
Plenty of other forces keep pushing us to eat more, more, more. Restaurants boast of huge helpings, with some offering “all you can eat.” In the old days, kids were urged to eat more and think of the people starving in Armenia. Now, toys at fast food restaurants do the urging. Parents who themselves are overweight set a bad example for their children and may start them on the way to obesity.
While the government guidelines until this year have underplayed quantity, other advisers have warned repeatedly against overeating. Professor Musgrave always has asked patients how much they eat of everything. She suggests that small steps, such as cutting in half the helping of jelly on morn-ing toast, make a difference.
The 112-page report makes no mention of whoopie pies, a popular snack being promoted for designation as Maine’s official treat. Professor Musgrave says she put her foot in it recently by praising whoopie pies. All she meant to say was that everyone deserves a treat now and then. But don’t just pig out.