Government: Eat Less

The federal government's newest dietary guidelines have finally stated that which has long been between the lines: Americans eat too damn much food.

The federal government’s newest dietary guidelines [PDF] have finally stated that which has long been between the lines:  Americans eat too damn much food.

While the recommendations may seem obvious, it is nonetheless considered major progress for federal regulators, who have long skirted the issue, wary of the powerful food lobby. (The 112-page report even subtly suggests that people eat less pizza and dessert.)

Previous guidelines urged Americans to curb sugar, solid fats and salt, but avoided naming specific foods, let alone urging consumers to eat less food over all.

“For them to have said ‘eat less’ is really new. Who would have thought?” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We should have been saying ‘eat less’ for a decade.”

Ms. Wootan said she was nonetheless pleased that the guidelines provided “understandable and actionable” advice rather than the “big vague messages” of the past.

For instance, she applauded the advice to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.  “Before, the dietary guidelines said, ‘Eat more fruits and vegetables,’ but that could mean add a slice of tomato to your hamburger,” she said.

Robert C. Post, deputy director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the Agriculture Department, said regulators hoped simple messages would resonate better than the more technical prose of the past.  “Maybe that is what will help this time to get the consumer’s attention,” he said.

Good luck with that.

Most of us already know that we’re eating too much of the wrong kinds of food, drinking too much beer and whisky, and getting too little exercise. The problem isn’t lack of knowledge but lack of will. Pizza, French fries, pale ales, and single malts are delicious. Watching television, surfing the Web, and playing video games is relaxing. Running, lifting weights, and swimming laps is hard.

FILED UNDER: Food, Health, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I love how they imply that they have to be careful with their words so that they don’t piss off “the food lobby”.

    If anything shows just how screwed we are politically, that’s it. We can’t just say “Americans are fat because they keep stuffing their fat faces” because we’ll piss off food lawyers. This is laughable.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Christopher: It’s really worse than that. We tell people not to eat so much fat and simultaneously offer massive subsidies to the dairy industry. We tell people to lay off corn syrup and yet offer massive subsidies to Big Corn. Until recently, we did the same with tobacco!

  3. JKB says:

    Look you don’t have to “piss off ‘the food lobby'” to have a problem. People eat less, they buy less from restaurants, restaurants lay off employees, lots of unemployed “….-studies” graduates, which is a core Dem constituency, not to mention, the poor and minorities who depend on those jobs.

    Fact of the matter is, we won the evolutionary battle. Cooking and processing food so it is easier to extract the usable energy is what made us human. We’ve just reached the pinnacle where we have far more excess energy than even our big brains require. So until we get a big head to grow a bigger brain in, we’ll be storing that energy for the coming global food crisis.

    Question who is having more children and who survive to procreate, the skinny or the overweight? It could be fat is just the next evolutionary phase and it will prepare homo sapiens for the next big leap. Okay, tiny step, that’s a lot of weight to be leaping with.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    ‘Look you don’t have to ‘piss off ‘the food lobby’ to have a problem. People eat less, they buy less from restaurants, restaurants lay off employees, lots of unemployed ‘….-studies’ graduates, which is a core Dem constituency, not to mention, the poor and minorities who depend on those jobs.’

    Oh yes, of course, it’s a secret Democratic conspiracy to pay off their constituencies…it’s just so obvious…

    As for the rest about “evolution” to mass fatness, I guess JKB is a Pixar fan…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall-E

  5. john personna says:

    Running, lifting weights, and swimming laps is hard.

    Some sports are fun. For me it’s mountain biking, or crawling over rocks in trout streams. Other people like tennis, etc.

  6. JKB says:

    Dude, get a sense of humor. Sure I poked a little fun at Dem constituencies but the fact is no politician in the history of the universe has gotten ahead by telling people they should be hungry, that they should send their kids to be with hunger, even if the total government recommended allowance for calories, vitamins and minerals have been satisfied.

    The “food lobby” doesn’t have to do much against these recommendations to eat less other than point and say, they want to deny you one of the few pleasures in life you have left. It is visceral; people feel it in their bellies. Sure the food lobby makes money filling those bellies but simply because they are filling a basic human desire.

    BTW, the prediction is those cupcake shops that are springing up these days will do okay even in the downturn because people, in bad times, will treat themselves to a bit of inexpensive indulgence. Makes sense given the number of candies and snack cakes that we have today that appeared in the Depression and other hard times.

    As they say on those TV cop shows, It is not wise to go against the gut.

  7. Chefmarty426 says:

    There’s a more succinct explanation of the new government strategy here:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/fda-official-just-eat-a-goddamn-vegetable,18905/

  8. Chefmarty426 says:

    There’s a more succinct explanation of the new government strategy here:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/fda-official-just-eat-a-goddamn-vegetable,18905/

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s something about the restaurant business that bears mentioning: the food itself is probably the least expensive of restaurant costs and giving a lot of quantity is frequently a relatively low pain way for them to convince patrons they’re getting a good value for their money.

    I think there’s a lot of good sense in the prescription to eat less. About 15 years ago I made a major change in my diet, resulting in my eating about half of the “normal” diet I had eaten before. I’m eating a lot less and feeling a lot better. I honestly think that most people don’t realize how much more they eat than they really need.

  10. john personna says:

    I started using an iphone calorie tracker app, not for the calories, but to track fats and cholesterol. I was surprised that most days I was below target calories for my build and activity. Then, now and then, I’d get hungry and catch up. This usually happened a day or two after a big hike or bike ride.

    I found the app fun, but only for a month or so, then left it. I’d recommend it for anyone wondering what their energy equation looks like. I can’t remember the name of the app now, I’ve switched to android. But look for one with a big library of foods (both ‘fast’ and ‘home’) and then a good library of activities (‘2 hours mountain biking’).

  11. James Joyner says:

    Dave: I have no doubt that I eat substantially more than my body needs, much less that I should be eating more vegetables. But it’s easy to fall back on comfort and habit, especially when you’re tired.

  12. john personna says:

    “especially when you’re tired”

    I think the thing about stress is that it feels to the body like work, when it isn’t exactly the same. Heck, even driving feels like moving, when it’s really just sitting.

  13. john personna says:

    (BTW, my actual daily calories were 25% lower than what I’d estimated, before I tracked.)

  14. James Joyner says:

    @JP: “I think the thing about stress is that it feels to the body like work, when it isn’t exactly the same.”

    That’s exactly right. As a matter of experience, the antidote to the tiredness that comes with a stressful day is to get out and get some exercise. But while the intellect may push one in that direction, everything else says: have a drink and watch some TV!

  15. An Interested Party says:

    “Dude, get a sense of humor.”

    Do be sure to follow your own advice when someone around here writes something about, say, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party types…

  16. John says:

    Too much whiskey?
    Bite. Your. Tongue.

  17. Richard says:

    This is particularly interesting to me as a topic of incentives. We know that making Americans eat less is better for their own health. Since the government can’t mandate that and these recommendations fall on deaf ears, I’m wondering what’s the feasibility of taxing instead of subsidizing sugars and fat. Would that be a nonstarter politically? Would the masses revolt at “government intrusion”?

  18. […] all of this paternalism ignores one simple point which James Joyner touched on last month: Most of us already know that we’re eating too much of the wrong kinds of food, drinking too […]