TCS Daily

A Modest Proposal for the Dietary Guidelines

By Jonathan Robison, PhD, MS - March 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Our government is deeply worried today about the state of health of the American Public. According to the experts, we are simply too fat and too sedentary, and we are literally eating ourselves into an early grave. In spite of ongoing (and ever-changing) expert health recommendations we remain defiant and oblivious. Disregarding hundreds if not thousands of books claiming to tell us the truth about what to eat to be healthy, we continue to do exactly as we please, without any concern about the catastrophic health consequences that will surely follow.

In desperation, and with the hope of saving us from guaranteed premature morbidity and mortality (or even worse -- obesity), the government has just released a new set of dietary recommendations for Americans. Unfortunately, even the experts agree that, as in years past, it is highly unlikely that most people will pay much attention to the new recommendations and even less likely that they will alter their habitual culinary practices. What's a government to do?

As a doctor of health education, a nutritionist and a concerned citizen, I have been pondering this Public Health quagmire and I think have come up with a solution! It is beautifully straightforward and simple and I think it can work. In fact, I can't for the life of me understand why nobody has thought of it before.

Make the new Dietary Guidelines mandatory! That's right, simply mandate that every man, woman and child must eat according to the guidelines each and every day! At first blush, this may sound impractical and overwhelming, but, hear me out -- I think it can be done!

The government could make copies of the guidelines (and the accompanying explanatory manuals) for every American. Perhaps the IRS could oversee the distribution to all adults; and to schools, churches and business organizations. They are fairly experienced at being able to locate people. Children could be taught the guidelines in school (they could be added to all standardized tests to make sure that no child would be left behind) and parents would be responsible not only to follow the guidelines themselves, but also to see that their kids adhere at home.

Of course, there would need to be verification. The government could institute Random Food Checks (RFC) during any mealtime at people's homes (and workplaces) to make sure they were eating the right stuff. Since obesity has been declared more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction (and most certainly easier to find) oversight and coordination of the RFC might best be provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS officers would be equipped with the latest measuring and weighing devices to enable them to identify and apprehend those storing and/or ingesting inappropriate amounts of restricted substances.

Since the DHS is already comfortable with color-based systems, they could incorporate the tried and true red light, green light diet evaluation system for their home inspections -- all foods designated red light would be confiscated and only foods designated green light would remain in the homes for consumption.

Given the extended history of noncompliance, there would be stiff penalties for those caught cheating. Any producer or provider dealing in foods not commensurate with the guidelines would be subject to strict fines, bad press (labeled as un-American) and potential shutdown. Industries so penalized would be required to plead their cases to the Dietary Guideline Expert Panel (DGEP), made up of individuals who have not eaten at a fast food restaurant or missed a day of exercise in the past two years, under the strict auspices of the newly created Department for Science in The Public Interest (DSPI).

Compliance with the latest exercise recommendations in the new guidelines would have to be enforced as well. Because obesity has been declared the nation's number one health problem, neighborhood watch groups could turn their attention and resources away from the less important issues of drugs and violence. Pedometers could be issued to all, perhaps by the military (a pedometer in every garage), and neighborhood vigilantes could help monitor adherence and confiscate the televisions, video screens and cell phones of persons caught not meeting their Daily Quota of Exercise Minutes (DQEM).

Not only could the new dietary recommendations make a serious dent in the Great American Waistline -- there could be important collateral benefits, including, but not limited to a significant boost for many different sectors of the economy. Think of the windfall profits that having to eat according to the guidelines would provide for pharmaceutical companies selling anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications! Think of the astronomical increase in sales for measuring devices of all kinds -- as the quantity of every morsel of solid and every drop of liquid would have to be carefully calculated by every person during every meal before it could be consumed (over time this would certainly contribute to greatly improved scores on the math portion of the SAT tests as well -- making our country even more competitive in the world marketplace). Think of the thousands of new inspectors that would have to be trained and added to the workforce, which over time would greatly reduce the number of people out of work and on welfare.

As for the benefits of the increased exercise, let's not forget to mention all the Motrin and doctors visits and surgeries that would be needed to treat the millions of people wanting to lose weight, who would have to exercise "at least 60-90 minutes a day" according to the new guidelines. Also, given that a large percentage of Americans are already sleep deprived, think of all the additional caffeine containing coffee, pop and pills that would be bought up to keep them awake during the day now that they are getting 90 minutes less sleep a night. And since adult Americans already spend precious little quality time with their spouses and children, the additional 90 minutes a day would most surely result in more income for the mental health profession, so beleaguered recently by changes in the health insurance industry.

We have heretofore only dabbled in a hit or miss fashion with this type of solution -- bringing suit against or threatening to increase taxes on people who sell foods we do not agree with, hooking up exercise equipment to television sets to force people to move while they watch their favorite shows, confiscating sugary treats from children's lunch boxes and prohibiting cupcakes at school birthday parties. If we are going to get the upper hand on this looming Public Health Calamity it is high time for some Tough Love.

It is clear that Americans are not capable of making these important health decisions for themselves. Information, persuasion, coercion, fear and even shame and disgust have failed to motivate us to do and eat the right things. Maybe the time has come for a little health fascism. Historically, it made for well disciplined railroad schedules -- maybe it can do the same for our dietary and exercise habits.

Only time will tell if this radical plan will have the desired effects. But desperate times call for desperate measures. It is said the death and taxes are the only two things we can be sure of in this lifetime. In 21st century America, it may soon be death, taxes and The Dietary Guidelines.


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