As a nation, we are killing ourselves with what we eat.
After decades of consuming Big Gulps and Big Macs, the percent of overweight or obese Americans has gone up almost 64 percent to a staggering 70 percent of citizens in the last 70 years, leading to increased rates for heart attacks, diabetes and other fatal conditions.
Until recently, the government stayed relatively out of it; we were free to eat as much of whatever we wanted to. Finding fast food nutrition information required locating a greasy pamphlet partially hidden behind the drink machine – a drink machine where you could fill up a 44 ounce cup with a quarter of the maximum daily recommended number of calories for just $1.50.
Because of this mentality, governmental restrictions on everything from mega–sized sodas in New York to the USDA’s public school lunch restrictions in recent years have been met with opposition. Change can be difficult, and change that appears to take away a “deserved” freedom can be even harder. But how many freedoms have we actually lost in light of these new restrictions compared to what new opportunities we’ve gained?
We are still allowed to purchase and eat what we want. You can still buy and eat an entire pizza, or eat nothing but fried chicken for your entire (albeit short) life. The Wal-Mart cashier doesn’t end your transaction when you reach 15 2-liters of pop. None of the governmental restrictions have kept you from buying what you want.
The one exception to this, which was repealed in March 2013, was the New York soda ban. Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlawed sodas over 16 ounces through the city Health Department and without support of the Council. His goal was to help limit super-sized cups of diabetes-inducing sugar concoctions. It was repealed by a judge when it was ruled that Bloomberg had overstepped his bounds. It is set to go to the states’ Court of Appeals in early June. But, before you blame the entire U.S. government, remember that this was the action was of one man in one city.
Another element of governmental interaction is the requirement of nutrition information, mainly caloric content, at food food restaurants and the newly unveiled food nutrition labels recently proposed by the Federal Drug Administration. These new measures are for educational purposes only. All the information was previously available in the same locations; it was just a little harder to see or get to. Are we complaining that the government has made things easier for us?
These small changes probably won’t reverse the trends of obesity; they aren’t intrusive, expensive or inconvenient. Studies of the effects of the menu board fast food nutrition counts have shown that they make little difference in most people’s choices. The only difference is now we know what we’re doing and we chose to do it anyway.
Another health-conscious move on behalf of the government was the January 2011 shift to healthier public school lunches, publicly spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Menus are required to slowly decrease the amount of starchy vegetables, reduce sodium (which often topped 1,600 milligram), establish calorie maximum and minimums and increase fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
It is a disservice to our youth to not provide them with the best opportunities possible – including the best possible nutrition. Approximately 32 million students each lunch at their school every day; about 25 million are overweight. If the government suddenly provided badass football uniforms for the football team or iPads for all students, we wouldn’t be complaining. But, when it comes to healthier food options (and it is an option; students can still bring their own lunches), it’s suddenly abhorrent.
What and how much we eat is still very much our choice. Government involvement has increased in recent years, as the situation becomes more and more severe, but the efforts have been unobtrusive and educational in nature. Fighting against these efforts to protect something as basic as America’s health is irresponsible.
Until we see a TSA-style supervisor at Wal-Mart or a ban on all Big Macs and Big Gulps everywhere, we should relax and use the information and opportunities available to our advantage.
Jena Sauber is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.