When the federal government released its updated dietary guidelines yesterday, the ever-growing cabal of food activists — quite predictably — tried to turn them into a launching pad for dietary dictates. First was the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which demanded that “government regulatory agencies need to take such actions as limiting the salt content of processed foods, eliminating the use of partially hydrogenated oils, and lowering the current limits on fat in processed meats.” If these self-described “food police” had their way, Big Brother would dream up harsh penalties for food producers who dare to prepare hot dogs, pretzels, and cookies in a way CSPI doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called for the government’s guidelines to “specifically recommend Americans avoid meat, dairy, and fish.” Only an organization funded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would be so brazen.

Despite various attempts by activists to hijack the government’s guidelines, its good points shouldn’t be obscured. Most importantly, the new guidelines for the first time recommended 30-60 minutes of exercise per day of physical activity. That may reflect the large body of evidence indicating that physical fitness plays a larger role than body weight in your health.

At yesterday’s press conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson called the guidelines “common sense,” and noted that weight maintenance and good health won’t come from government mandates:

You can get up tonight. Tonight. Everybody in this room only ate half the dessert and then go out and walk around the block, and if you’re going to watch television get down and do 10 pushups and five sit-ups. And you know something? You will feel better; in a little while you’ll be able to do 20. And that’s all it takes. It takes some personal, you know, personal intuition and initiative to get the job done.

Thompson also rebuked the efforts of some diet scolds to clamp down on food advertising, saying:

We have a Constitution that prohibits the limit of speech, and we in this Administration believe very strongly that people should have the opportunity to advertise. And we’re not going to in any way curtail the right to express people’s opinions.