France, Japan, Britain, Australia: this list catalogs countries with athletes participating in the Summer Olympics. But it also represents governments with officials who are increasingly viewing individual diets as a matter of public health. America makes the list too. From “sin” taxes on tasty snacks to outright bans on “fast foods,” lawmakers around the globe have narrowly targeted food as the scourge of our health. But the athletes sent by each country to the world’s stage exemplify a different point entirely.
Consider Michael Phelps. Eating a diet loaded with so-called “junk” foods (white bread, fried eggs, and pasta by the pound), the famous Olympic champion downs an astonishing 12 thousand calories each day. However, at 6’4” and 195 lbs, Phelps is far from obese or unhealthy. The swimmer’s big appetite and lean physique seems to contradict the dietary rules eschewed in obesity policies. The explanation is balance. Phelps offsets the energy he eats with the energy he burns.
Most Americans don’t achieve that same balance.
Though many of us can’t keep up with Phelps’ exercise regimen, there’s plenty of opportunity for activity hidden in our day-to-day life. We drive rather than walk to work. We shop online instead of at the store. We ride rather than push our mowers. And with hundreds of channels on television, we spend more time watching sports than playing them. One contributor to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal noted:
Food cops, like Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, pay little more than lip service to these couch-potato habits that have become the norm in recent years. Instead, Jacobson and other “obesity” experts single out “junk food” as the culprit behind our burgeoning behinds. Pushing a food-only approach, these sticklers lobby for highly restrictive public health policies that leave no room for common sense (and diets that leave no room for dessert). But the nutritionally risqué diets of Phelps and other top-performing athletes show that any food can be part of an active lifestyle.