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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Freedom of Food

The USDA recently unveiled its new My Plate dietary guidance initiative. This replaces the My Pyramid which had been in place since the early 1990’s. In so far as anyone looks to the government for nutrition advice the plate or the pyramid are essentially the same. Even I find no fault in the basic advice offered in My Plate. I do have issues with several other facets of the program.

First why is the government even in the business of providing nutrition advice and guidance? Our Constitution gives no authority for the government to promote a national diet plan. Therefore it seems as though we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech but not freedom of nutrition.

The My Plate program is unnecessary because most people know how to choose a healthy diet. If they can’t then there are hundreds or private resources they can tap into. Yet having worked in the arena of food and nutrition for many years I have often ask people to describe the nuts and bolts of healthy eating and most without hesitation can easily do so. The issue with most is not their level of nutrition knowledge but the willingness to implement the knowledge they have. My Plate like many antiquated and needless government programs will probably never go away.

Another issue I have with the My Plate launch is how it was couched in terms of the “obesity epidemic”? Though it is true that we are as a nation a little heavier that we used to be I am not sure that constitutes an epidemic of obesity. But for the sake of argument let’s assume that such an epidemic exists and a cure is badly needed. Could we be confident that changing the geometric shape of the government’s dietary message from a triangle to a circle will solve that epidemic? If a national diet program has not changed our collective waist line in the past it is not likely to change it now or in the future.

In the end will My Plate result in a healthier America? If diseases such as heart disease and stroke trend downward in the coming years as they have in the past few years will that be attributable to My Plate? My guess is no. Individual health as it relates to nutrition is much more complex and nuanced than a big national diet plan can fix. Moreover health on an individual level is impacted by so many other factors besides nutrition and diet.

Please don’t misunderstand I really believe in providing good quality nutrition advice to those who are searching for it. In broad terms My Plate does that just fine. The issues that I have are focused on whether the government has a role in this discussion in the first place.

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