Tuesday, October 12, 2010

US nutrition bureaucrats seek “simplicity” in new food pyramid

How about truth instead? NOTHING leads to permanent weight loss outside surgery and lifespan differs little for all but the extremes of the weight range. Good to see below however that it is all just politics

With most Americans overweight or obese and at risk of high blood pressure, policymakers are working to reinvent the familiar food pyramid and develop advice that is simple and blunt enough to help turn the tide.

Although most people do not read them, the guidelines have broad impact on Americans’ lives. They dictate what is served in school breakfast and lunch. They affect education materials for food stamp recipients and information on the nutrition labels of food packages. They also underpin nutritional information available in community centers, doctors’ offices, and hospitals.

The government updates its dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. [So what was right yesterday is wrong today?]

What the new guidelines will say when they are unveiled in December is still under wraps. But the interagency committee is searching for new ways to communicate lessons about healthful eating and is working to make the food pyramid “more meaningful and engaging,’’ said Robert Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion, which is leading the development of the guidelines.

Healthful eating has gained a high profile through Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move’’ initiative to fight childhood obesity. But historically, the government has shied away from offering controversial advice.

And with food, everything is controversial: A boost for one type of food in the guidelines can be viewed as a threat by providers of competing products. The result, critics say, is a nutritional education system so politically influenced that it is ineffective. This year’s process appears to be no exception.

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.


The problem with “fat” taxes

States are increasingly looking to soda, candy, and other so-called “fat” taxes as a way to shore up their budgets. That’s happening despite a lack of evidence that these taxes have any significant effect on obesity rates, the usual rationale for these taxes.

As happened previously with alcohol and tobacco, special-interest groups are targeting these foods and beverages because they are relatively easy to demagogue and they allow lawmakers to promote the taxes as a public health initiative rather than a tax increase. These taxes, however, must be extremely high to have any effect on obesity rates; they are highly regressive (disproportionately affecting lower-income people); and they prop up government spending increases by allowing lawmakers to kick fiscal problems down the road.

Any number of legal products and services can have negative effects if used in excess, but that doesn’t mean heavy-handed government intervention makes for good tax policy. Studies show that states with high “sin” tax rates also tend to have higher overall tax burdens. Further hurting small business owners and taking more money out of the pockets of an already-strained citizenry is unnecessarily burdensome and does not help the state’s fiscal condition.

Lawmakers who genuinely want to get their budgets under control should avoid hiking sin taxes and instead focus on real budgetary reforms such as enacting a reasonable tax and expenditure limit, reforming unfunded liabilities, and privatizing non-core functions of government.


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