Truthiness in Food

The pervasive influence of ignorance extends its tendrils through every corner of our country, and the lack of knowledge concerning the food you consume is no exception. In its struggle to combat the obesity epidemic running its course through the American population, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) is contemplating revisions of nutrition labeling on consumable products.

The problem is that many of the nutrition labels list the nutritional facts for unrealistically small portions that no one can fail to exceed. Hence, the numbers for categories like calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates are “artificially” low. The measurements are correct for the corresponding portion size, it’s just that most of us eat larger portions than those listed, yet we falsely believe we have eaten a certain number of calories based on the nutrition facts on the box.

According to Ms. Barbara O. Schneeman, the director of the F.D.A office that oversees nutrition labels, the ultimate “purpose of nutrition labeling is to help consumers make healthier choices, make improvements in their diet, and we want to make sure we achieve that goal.” In order to see these plans to fruition, there are a handful of practical steps the F.D.A. is pursuing.

Officials are looking to better convey nutrition facts by changing the packaging of food itself, requiring companies to put the nutrition facts on the front of the box, rather than hidden on the back or bottom. This way, the uninformed or apathetic consumer is going to have to face the information. They are also looking for ways to prevent companies from highlighting the healthy aspects of their products while neglecting the bad stuff.

The F.D.A is hoping that these changes — for example, requiring companies to list the information of more practical serving sizes of a more appropriate twenty chips as opposed to six chips — will awaken Americans from their blissful ignorance of the consequences of their dietary decisions.

Perhaps Americans are being punished for the luxuries of excess. In a generation burdened with feelings of entitlement, why should we not do as we please, say what we wish, and eat what we will?

It is not that other countries cannot afford to be overweight, but having the means to do so enables the problem to exist — and America is a country armed with such means. As one of the world’s leaders in GDP, America also has the greatest percentage of overweight citizens. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the overall obesity rate in America is around 32.2 percent for men and 35.5 percent for women. After reviewing some of the most relevant and important statistics surrounding the issue, an important question arises: why has America seen increasing obesity rates?

It is true that the decreased quality of the American diet plays a large role in gravity’s greater pull on our bodies, but there are other factors at play as well. Americans have taken on one of longest workweeks in the world at 40 hours. Often, the work is sedentary in nature and decreases the chances of maintaining active lifestyles that our parents and grandparents enjoyed in the past.

Entertainment for children, which used to constitute playing outside and team sports, has become nothing but video games and television. This may be due in part to the consistent rise in the percentage of households with both parents working. Balancing a demanding work week and the responsibilities of family life is difficult enough without having to meticulously care for a child’s physical fitness.

The F.D.A. is addressing a very important issue with respect to nutrition labeling on food, but we have to recognize that this is but one aspect of a much larger issue. While there are many other things that can make food poor, like high fructose corn syrup and “bleached” or “enriched” foods, addressing nutrition labeling is only one step on the journey to dietary redemption.

Andrew Charles Wong is a fourth-year business economics major. He can be reached at andrewcw@uci.edu.