The Final Word

July 27, 2010
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Managing editor Marina Mayer reviews some of the preliminary changes to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Find out why consumers need to pay attention.

Listen Up People

For years, doctors and nutritionists have been recommending that Americans eat healthier and exercise more. But who’s really paying attention?

Clearly no one is listening as obesity rates have nearly tripled over the past 30 years. In fact, obesity is “the single greatest threat to public health in this century,” according to the 13-member board of scientists and nutritionists selected to revise the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services and due to be revised later this year.

That’s because the attitudes and behaviors of families with one or more overweight/obese child differ from those with healthy-weight children, according to a recent study conducted by Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group and the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va.

For example, children in healthy-weight families are more involved with food purchases and help prepare and cook family meals, the study says. Meanwhile, parents of healthy-weight children rely on doctors, medical resources and books to learn and gain sound information whereas parents of overweight/obese kids turn to social media and other non-credible sources.

Parents of healthy-weight children also place a premium on activities, playtime and exercise, the study outlines, and incorporate fruits and vegetables into daily meals while limiting fast food intake.

However, the findings also show that the less rules about eating, the healthier the child.

What’s interesting about this particular conclusion is that while only 28% of the families surveyed apply the “finish what’s on your plate” rule, preliminary revisions to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines paint a more regimented picture.

For example, the proposed changes urge the importance of maintaining a more plant-based diet complete with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. They also urge Americans to decrease saturated fat intake from 10% to 7%, eat moderate amounts of lean meats, eggs and poultry and consume less sugars, sodium and refined grains.

Because Americans are fat, we all have to become vegetarians.

“The emphasis has shifted for focusing on the average consumer to those demographic groups with special health concerns - primarily obesity and overweight,” says Lee Sanders, senior vice president, government relations and public affairs, corporate secretary for the American Bakers Association, Washington, D.C. “The Guideline Advisory Committee wants to influence eating patterns to assist in prevention, to influence other health issues such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease and osteoporosis, to name a few.”

While most of these changes are necessary forms of action to curb our nation’s obesity rate, I think we all should vow to follow the “less is more” rule.

For instance, the government should place fewer restrictions of what we can and cannot eat and just maybe, we all can do our part to improve our nation’s obesity rate. Bakers and snack food producers should pump out fewer foods that are tied down to terms such as all-natural, high fiber, organic, gluten-free, vegan and low salt.

With the obesity rate being as high as it is, where’s the proof that these types of foods are really working?
While we all should be maintaining a healthy diet, I think eliminating the so-called bad foods isn’t going to help Americans lose weight. In fact, exercising alone may not even be the resolution.

Instead of laying on a bunch of food rules, the new guidelines should teach us how to eat instead of suggesting what to eat and what not to eat. They should guide us through a series of meal plans that offer flexibility and taste. Doctors and nutritionists should come together and formulate diet plans for each individual patient, keeping in mind facets such as high cholesterol, family history and lifestyle.

No one diet is right for everyone. That’s why the revised guidelines should focus more on individuals versus the nation as a whole.

I know that eating a plant-based diet doesn’t help me at all, and I’m sure it won’t help the countless other consumers who may eat healthy but would like to dive into a large bag of “full-fat” chips here and there.

Maybe we’ll listen when these guidelines have something worthwhile to say, or when we don’t have to memorize a bunch of rules.

Marina Mayer, managing editor

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