TCS Daily

'Tis the Silly Season

By Duane D. Freese - December 3, 2003 12:00 AM

So, we are now fully in the throes of the holiday eating season, during which time, in this era of obesity obsession, we will receive 18,332 warnings, admonishments and friendly pieces of advice to watch what we eat and drink.


Indeed, in the modern spirit of the holidays, the Food and Drug Administration has under consideration a proposal put forth by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that a label be attached to all Santa Claus images, as well as the jolly man himself, warning people that he is not a person to emulate in regards to physique. Trial lawyers, headed by John Banzhaf, in turn have indicated they will sue any chain restaurant that uses Santa's image without such a warning label, claiming such advertising is subliminal enticement for people to super-size their meals.


Just kidding. Well, sort of. As Radley Balko wrote on TCS Nov. 19, "Absurdity is dead. Welcome to post-reductio America. It's sterile. It's antiseptic. And we're all a little less free."


Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the FDA took another step down that ridiculous road, holding a hearing about requiring restaurants to label their meals with counts of calories, sodium and saturated fat. In addition, it considered proposals for revising nutrition labeling on packaged food at groceries to make them "more understandable."


There isn't any great wellspring of demand from restaurant-goers for these new regulations, of course. So-called consumer groups, such as CSPI, are leading the charge. CSPI is behind legislation offered in Congress by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., that would mandate such information.


Restaurateurs are a bit leery of the whole idea. Food preparation, even in the most exacting of circumstances, is still an imprecise science. The sodium on French fries, for example, may depend not only on how many shakes but how hard a salt shaker is shaken and how many holes on the shaker are clogged.


Which may be why a USA Today editorial Nov. 20 on the FDA hearing, noted: "While providing consumers with more honest information about the foods they eat is a worthy goal, such efforts can go too far. In the name of protecting health, the "eat your peas and carrots" crowd is paving the way for a buffet of litigation that would allow money-hungry attorneys employing novel legal theories to go after Big Food, the plumpest target since Big Tobacco."


In a noteworthy stab at common sense -- one that CSPI and similar consumer groups no doubt won't grasp -- the editorial concluded that "suggesting consumers wouldn't overeat if only they'd known the fat content isn't credible."


But, hey, what does common sense have to do with public policy? 'Tis the season to be jolly, especially when proposing unneeded, unwanted and unnecessary gifts to bestow upon your fellow men (and women).


So I have my own labeling list for battling the obesity epidemic, based upon the best scientific evidence I could find.


First, we need a label prominently displayed in restaurants, libraries and waiting rooms around America warning mothers not to tell their kids, "Stop fidgeting!"


Telling them to do so is detrimental to the obesity fight, according to James A. Levine, Sara J. Schleusner and Michael D. Jensen of the Mayo Clinic's Endocrine Research Unit. In a study, "Energy Expenditure of Nonexercise Activity,' from the December 2000 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they found: "There is a marked variance between subjects in the energy expenditure associated with self-selected fidgeting-like activities. The thermogenic potential of fidgeting-like and low-grade activities is sufficiently great to substantively contribute to energy balance."


In short, teach your kids to be nervous Nellies and they could expend more energy and thus shed pounds. Methods to do so include shouting at them at unexpected moments, especially when they're calm, and increasing their intake of caffeine drinks, especially before they have to go someplace where they might sit still.


Getting kids to fidget, though, will not make everyone healthy. Adults need to be brought into line, too.


Ergo I propose labels on washing machines, automobiles, dishwashers, elevators, escalators and electric can openers, spray painters, saws, drills, sanders and screwdrivers warning, along with the host of other accompanying well-read warnings in their direction manuals: "Use of this device could lead to an energy imbalance and a depleted human energy usage."


This warning is necessitated by a study "Labor Saved, Calories Lost: The Energetic Impact of Domestic Labor-saving Devices" by Levine, Lorraine Lanningham-Foster and Lana J. Nysse in the 2003 Obesity Research, Vol. 11, pps. 1178-1181, which found that people using labor saving devices used less energy when compared with not using such devices to perform the tasks the devices were designed to perform.


"Progressive sedentariness has been attributed to greater use of labor-saving devices, such as washing machines, and less nonexercise walking (e.g., walking to work)," the authors noted. Their study proved: "The magnitude of the energetic impact of the mechanized tasks we studied was sufficiently great to contribute to the positive energy balance associated with weight gain. Efforts focused on reversing sedentariness have the potential to impact obesity."


Perhaps a warning label might help. To reduce use of washing machines, for example, one could be put on clothes: "Hand wash only, preferably in a stream, using a rock, a mile or more from home."  And if labels don't work, well, maybe failure of manufacturers to make people aware that use of them might make them plumper could serve as grounds for a lawsuit, especially now that a scientific study indicates use of labor-saving devices contributes to obesity.


Finally, though, nutrition guidelines on packaged foods need some warning labels stating: "These nutritional guidelines only apply to postmenopausal women without other confounding metabolic conditions."


As Junk Science guru Steven Milloy, wrote in the Washington Times Nov. 10, the nutrition labels and the derivative Daily Required Values of fat, sodium, vitamins, etc., are based upon a 2,000 calorie standard, but "don't even disclose that the 2,000-calorie standard is intended for postmenopausal women."


Milloy also noted, "The recommended daily percentage requirements for fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and protein are arbitrary in nature. They have not been scientifically determined to be what's best for any one person or class of persons, much less everyone."


And new research suggests exactly how arbitrary they are. A study by researchers at Leeds University and presented to the Association for the Study of Obesity in London on Nov. 21, a day after the FDA hearing, found that a person's metabolism plays a major role in how much he or she may eat without gaining weight.


"With diet, one size does not fit all," Professor John Blundell, a lead author of the study was reported saying. "The early signs are that there are some who naturally have an advantage because of their metabolism. They are naturally lean, despite eating high-fat foods."


So, beware, following the nutritional guidelines on the label -- or on the menu, if CSPI, gets its way -- could be detrimental to your health, leading to undernourishment or overnourishment depending upon your gender, metabolism and whether you are, if a women, of course, in a post-menopausal state.


In the meantime, we can happily imbibe. According to the study "Moderate Alcohol Consumption, Dietary Fat Composition, and Abdominal Obesity in Women: Evidence for Gene-Environment Interaction" by Jerry R. Greenfield, Katherine Samaras, Arthur B. Jenkins, Paul J. Kelly, Tim D. Spector and Lesley V. Campbell in Volume 88 of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism:


"Moderate alcohol consumers (11-17.9g/d) had less TBF (total body fat) ... and CBF (central abdominal fat)  ... than abstainers. In multiple regression, alcohol consumption remained independently associated with body fat distribution."


So, eat moderately, drink moderately, and be merry, moderately, and tomorrow you likely won't die. But watch out for Santa and his sleigh. He might run you down.



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