It seems like it’s been a while since the nutritional purists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest last pulled a hyperbolic snack-hating stunt. But we knew we wouldn’t have to wait too long. Yesterday CSPI unveiled the latest edition of its “Xtreme Eating Awards” for high-calorie restaurant dishes. It’s an annual media stunt for the food police whose puritanism excludes nearly any concept of moderation. Eating a 2,500-calorie meal every day isn’t generally a healthy choice for people (Michael Phelps excluded), but there’s nothing wrong with an occasional splurge. Can someone tell CSPI?
CSPI’s spin this year, Reuters reports, is its unhappiness because the menu-labeling laws it pushed through a variety of legislatures haven’t caused restaurants to replace all their offerings with carrot sticks and wheat germ. As we’ve noted before, the record is mixed for the effects of menu labeling laws on consumer behavior, which is really what’s driving the content of restaurant meals. (If consumers didn’t want triple bacon cheeseburgers, no one would offer them.) And given CSPI’s love of frivolous restaurant lawsuits—like last year’s (now dismissed) complaint over the saltiness of dishes at Denny’s—we have to wonder if the group’s nags will sue over calorie content next if consumers continue to ignore menu labeling.
But CSPI’s calorie-count seething provides a good opportunity to point out that food is just one part of the larger health and obesity picture. Coincidentally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report yesterday about physical activity in the United States. More than one-quarter of American adults get absolutely no physical activity in their free time. Things weren’t looking great for the next generation, either: Just 30 percent of high school students have daily phys-ed class, and even fewer are regularly physically active.
And by some CDC measures, our local environments don’t encourage us to move our bodies very much. Just one-fifth of kids have easy access to parks, for example. Why is this important? Because it’s hard for children to exercise if their surroundings aren’t built for play. As one Indiana University-Purdue University study discovered last year, kids’ proximity to recreational facilities has an effect on their body size.
CSPI can bluster about restaurant dishes all it wants. But its finger-wagging misses the forest for the trees.