TCS Daily

The War on Fun Continues

By Jonathan Robison, PhD, MS - January 28, 2005 12:00 AM

On January 13 the federal government laid out its long-awaited, newly-revised Dietary Guidelines. Since then, experts have been weighing in on the impact these guidelines may have for the health of the American people. Whether there will be a health impact, remains to be seen. While we wait for the outcome, a few things seem clear.

An already generally difficult to follow, unrealistic set of dietary and exercise recommendations... has been made more so! Instead of 30 minutes of exercise a day (which most Americans are not doing anyway) the new recommendations call for 60 minutes a day for health and at least 60-90 minutes a day for people wanting to lose weight. Instead of measuring our food intake using servings we are being told to switch to cups; and the amount of vegetables being recommended is being upped to 4 and one-half cups a day, in spite of the fact that most Americans are, at present, barely getting three servings a day. And this is only the beginning. In fact, there are all kinds of scientific, behavioral and ethical problems with the new recommendations, some of which were detailed in a recent TCS article by Sandy Szwarc.

However, this is not to say that the new Guidelines should be ignored. These recommendations are important, not for any new information on nutrition that they convey, but because of what they reveal about the agenda of at least some of those media-savvy experts in the health policy realm. The experts who are screaming the loudest about how we are killing ourselves with the way we live are not satisfied, even with these austere guidelines! What they really want to do is control our behaviors, particularly with respect to what and how much we eat.

In an article in the New York Times, published a few days after the release of the Guidelines, Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition at New York University complained:

"The guidelines should have described specific foods that Americans ought to avoid or cut back on."

In the same article, Dr. David Katz, director of Yale's Prevention Research Center (and, perhaps not surprisingly, author of a recent diet book entitled rather unabashedly -- The Way To Eat) laments:

"The guidelines take the position that there's no such thing as a bad food,... but that is a bow to the food industry, pure and simple."

Add to this a recent quotation from James O. Hill, PhD, Director, Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado, and another well-known weight management program creator and diet book author as he adamantly draws a profound scientific conclusion about how people eat successfully, as if there were actually science to support it.

"The first thing to realize is that we must use our head to manage our weight. If we look at people who are not overweight, they rely not on their biology to manage their weight, but their brains -- their intellect."

Finally, throw into the comments from the Editor in Chief of Medscape's General Medicine:

"The simple answer is to stop eating; stop feeding the obese until they are no longer obese."

Do you get the picture? These people clearly do not believe we are capable of making our own choices about our food, our bodies and our lives. In order to save us from ourselves, they feel they must impose their guidelines (austere and unrealistic as they are) on us. In another article published a few days after the guidelines were released, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Palo Alto dietitian Jo Ann Hattner put together a sample 2000-calorie menu following the new guidelines that looked like this:

-- Medium orange, sliced
-- 1 cup whole-grain cereal
-- 1 cup fat-free milk.

-- Mini-bagel, low-fat cheese.

-- Pita stuffed with 2 1/2 ounces grilled lean meat
-- Mix of leafy greens with chopped red and yellow peppers
-- 2 tablespoons salad dressing
-- Medium apple, sliced.

-- 8 ounces fat-free flavored yogurt.

-- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
-- 1/2 cup baked squash
-- 3 ounces fish, brushed with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and broiled, topped with herbs
-- 5 ounces wine
-- Small pear.

-- 3 cups plain popcorn (use 1 tablespoon oil to pop)

The title of the article, "New Food Rules Are Thin on Fun" says it all. The creators of the new recommendations have lost touch with the reality outside of their academic ivory towers. They reject the scientifically validated concepts that human beings are born with the innate ability to regulate their food intake and that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and they are more than willing to ignore science in the promotion of their agendas. Regardless of their motives; whether out of personal conviction, or for personal and professional gain from their diet books and weight loss clinics, they believe that the solution to the nation's health problems lies in forcing the rest of us to eat, live and look the way they believe we should.

As a human being who values tolerance and diversity, as an American and as a nutrition professional, I find this approach scientifically bereft and ethically repugnant. The best science does not show that Americans are eating themselves to death. In fact, death rates from most major causes have been declining and we are now living longer than at any time in history. The weight of populations in every corner of the world (with the possible exception of countries ravaged by AIDS) is increasing, and there is little evidence that scaring people about it is helpful in any way. We can best improve the health of all Americans by supporting their right to determine what is best for their life and their happiness, and their liberty to decide what and how much they will or will not eat.


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