Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" report. It’s mostly the usual blather about avoiding trans fats and increasing vitamin intake. But food scold Marion Nestle is excited, so something must be amiss:
An advisory committee of 13 scientists spent the past five years working on the report, examining questions such as whether eating out has any relationship on the weight of children and adults, and if fiber has any health benefits.
The scientific advisers acknowledged in their report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that eating healthy has become difficult in modern-day America.
"The committee made a really big point about how it was impossible for individuals to make healthy food choices, even if they wanted to, in the current food environment," said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and former member of the scientific committee that produces the guidelines.
Sure enough, Chapter 6 dives into how the feds can help people make healthy choices, declaring that “Americans must make these choices within the context of an environment that promotes overconsumption of calories and discourages physical activity.”
And what's the solution? “People need to value the outcomes associated with the change and need to believe that the changes can fit into their lifestyles. An environment that supports and facilitates healthy behavior changes, with cultural sensitivity, should be in place for this to occur.”
In other words, the feds need to tinker with consumer choices in order to nudge people into making better decisions. Cass Sunstein, please pick up the courtesy phone.
Of course, it’s not actually “impossible for individuals to make healthy food choices.” As economists Michael Anderson and David Matsa found, consumers who dine out at restaurants tend to compensate by taking in fewer calories at other meals throughout the day. So consumers are perfectly capable of making rational food choices. They don't need the government limiting the menu for them.
If you don't think the USDA’s deep bow to “food environment” paranoia is important, here's the lovable Margo Wootan from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:
"This is a first, to have them acknowledge that," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "For the first time, the advisory committee said, 'Something's wrong here. We've been giving this advice for 30 years. Just giving it again isn't going to make any difference.'"
Of course, the nutrition "experts" at CSPI were for trans fat before they were against them, so they're not exactly bursting with credibility. But we digress. If the government has taken up the cause of the “food environment” cabal, that's bad news for consumer freedom.