Today’s nutrition post is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The CSPI acts as the voice of the American public on the topics of food, nutrition, health and beyond. I am happy to host Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy, to write about the challenges of eating healthy in today’s world. I started KERF in 2007 as a way to help people navigate these challenges and show by example that eating healthy could be enjoyable. Most people know the What and Why of nutrition but it’s the How that is harder to execute on a daily basis. I hope that the How has jumped from my kitchen to yours.
How many times do you start out the day, full of resolve to eat well? Then by the time you get to dinner, you think, “maybe tomorrow.”
You’re not alone. It’s possible to eat well and watch your weight in America today, but the super-sized portion sizes, food everywhere, eating out, food at meetings, and other unhealthy influences persistently work against us. Same goes for our kids given the heavy marketing of junk food, unhealthy options on restaurant children’s menus, sugar-packed snacks at soccer games, and poor options at kid-oriented venues (my sister had to search high and low to find a fruit cup for my niece, Skyler, among all the junk at Disney on Ice this winter). The food environment makes healthy eating like swimming upstream.
I remember when my daughter, Camryn, was in elementary school. I could rarely offer her a treat at home, because her teacher would have given them candy for being quiet during math, or they had cookies at aftercare, or there was a class party for the 100th day of school – almost daily.
Margo and Camryn
While of course, individuals are ultimately responsible for what they will eat, food choices are affected by what food is available, prices (including what is on sale), how food is packaged, portion sizes, convenience, the attractiveness, presentation and placement of the food, information, marketing, and food politics.
When you go shopping you can’t even buy printer cartridges at Best Buy or towels at Bed Bath & Beyond without walking past a giant array of candy. Who goes into the drug store with a list that includes picking up your prescription and a Snicker’s candy bar? Yet, we often buy food when we weren’t hungry or even thinking about a snack before getting to the checkout.
Companies know that just seeing that food will make us feel hungry. That’s why food is everywhere these days–in vending machines, at gas stations, ball games, shopping malls, bus stations, airports, clothing stores, highway rest stops …
Portion sizes have grown over the years, and studies show that people eat more food when served more. That is profitable for food manufacturers and restaurants because the cost of the food (the price paid to the farmer) is only a modest fraction of their costs. If you buy a snack for a $1.00, the farmer gets about 20 cents. The rest pays for the food company’s overhead, transportation, labor, marketing, and other costs. So if they can get you to buy a large fry for a $1.50 instead of small fry for a $1.00, almost all that extra 50 cents you paid goes toward company profit. But the extra 200 calories we eat – that goes straight to our hips.
Soda, ice teas, sports drinks, and other sugar drinks have gone from being an occasional treat to the standard beverage offering. Sugar drinks are now the number one source of calories for Americans. Also, soft drinks are the only individual food which has been directly linked to obesity. Coke and Pepsi make sure there is soda everywhere—to stimulate your thirst and cravings—and they have increased the size of sodas from a modest 6.5 ounces back in the 1950’s (about 80 calories) to a hefty 20 ounces today (about 250 calories). That way each time you buy a soda you buy more.
People don’t chose to be overweight. It’s not something many desire and strive for. You don’t often hear, "I really hope I can put on some weight before the summer or I’m working hard to grow out of my wardrobe." In fact, it’s something that many people actively work to avoid. 75 million Americans say they are dieting, and we spend over $60 billion a year on weight-loss products and services.
Most Americans want to eat better—not all, but most. But it is just so hard in our food-and-soda everywhere, giant-portion-size, obesogenic food environment. That’s why I and my colleagues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, not only try to provide people with solid nutrition information through our Nutrition Action Healthletter, reports, and website, but we also try to change the food environment to make it more supportive of healthy eating.
We led the efforts to get Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food (and are working now to update those), get junk food and sugar drinks out of schools (coming this fall), put calories on chain restaurant menus (coming next spring), get trans fat out of food (the FDA proposed a rule on that this year), and more.
If you don’t smoke, healthy eating has more of an effect on your health than anything else you can do. The choices you make in the grocery store and in restaurants are crucial, but you also can join with moms, dads, health professionals, and other concerned citizens to make healthy eating a bit easier for yourself and your kids. I hope you’ll join us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on our website. Let us know what issues you struggle with and how we might work together to make healthy eating more possible.
Margo Wootan is the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), one of the country’s leading health advocacy organizations that specializes in food, nutrition, and obesity prevention. Dr. Wootan received her B.S. in nutrition from Cornell University and her doctorate in nutrition from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Wootan co-founded and coordinates the activities of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) and the Food Marketing Workgroup. She has coordinated and led efforts to require calorie labeling at fast-food and other chain restaurants, require trans fat labeling on packaged foods, improve school foods, reduce junk-food marketing aimed at children, and expand nutrition and physical activity programs at CDC. Wootan has received numerous awards and is quoted regularly in the nation’s major media.
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This post was sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest