Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts, Project No. P094513
I can certainly understand the concern mounting in this country over childhood "obesity". However, I feel some measure of sanity is due in this discourse. First, the issue of childhood obesity has been exaggerated in nearly every outlet in which I have seen it discussed. The frequently touted figure that "1/3 of children are overweight or obese" conflates two very different issues. Obesity has been linked to numerous health consequences (though research has not shown definitively that it is body weight itself which causes these problems). Overweight has not. In fact, one longitudinal study found that individuals who were classified as overweight (but not obese) actually had better health outcomes than those who were considered normal weight. It is clear that our current classification system is lacking (how does it make sense to call a group of perfectly healthy people "overweight" when their weight is clearly not above healthy levels ). By conflating overweight and obesity, those who tout this figure make it seem as though a larger portion of the nations children are at risk then actually are. This is dishonest, irresponsible, and frankly amounts to little more than fear-mongering. Assuming for the sake of argument that the actual obesity figure is closer to 20% once overweight is removed (I searched for but was unable to find separate figure), the second point worth making is that this is hardly an epidemic. Passing overly restrictive guidelines regarding food because of an issue effecting only about 1 in 5 children is hardly fair to the 4 in 5 children who are managing to somehow resist the siren call of the food industry. Third, obesity is not a disease. It is not contracted via virus or other contagion. It is at most a symptom, and much recent research suggests that it is the underlying issues that lead individuals to become obese that cause some of them to experience negative health outcomes. Attacking the symptom is usually not the best way to approach an issue, and in this case it is likely to unduly shame those children who are obese while doing little to improve their health outcomes. Finally, I believe that people should be free to consume what they wish. First, given that the majority of children are not obese, it is clear that eating sugary and fatty foods and maintaining proper health are not mutually exclusive. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children eat well (which can include "junk" food in moderation) and exercise. It is not the government's place to regulate the diets of the people it governs. Even if certain foods will lead to negative health outcomes down the road, it should be up to individuals to decide whether consuming those foods is worth the associated risks. The government should simply ensure that individuals have access to relevant health information about the foods they consume (which anyone who is willing to turn over a package or spend 5 minutes on Google does have access to). What we eat should ultimately be ours to decide.