March’s Nutrition Hot Topic: The Beginning of Governmental Brainwashing

(If you’re unsure, that title is laden with sarcasm)

Does nutrition information on a restaurant menu influence what you order? I feel like this has become an age-old question in the nutrition world.  I am immersed at the collegiate nutrition level, so stuff like this is pretty much all I hear about. It’s probably not the best gauge for what real people think. Putting nutrition labels on restaurant menus isn’t exactly ground breaking.  It was introduced several years ago and is now at the center of the healthcare reform debate. First seen in New York City, now Oregon, California, Maine and Massachusetts require chain restaurants to put nutrition information on their menus.  Most labels provide calorie information for the consumer.

Image from latimes.com

Our government is starting to intervene in the food world.  We’ve seen certain states and cities take more proactive steps in protecting their citizens’ health.  While many are in support of this kind of political action, some are up in arms over it, stating the government doesn’t have a right to control what we eat.

Let the insanity commence! Click the picture to go to the video. If you are not a fan of Fox News, it’s okay. This is literally a 4-minute video and I promise it will not indoctrinate you. Okay – maybe a little bit. Cue evil laugh.

First of all, let me say it’s absolutely hilarious to me that the dude opposing menu labeling is clearly in shape. Moving on.  I think this video holds some good points for both sides of the argument. Yes, people know the difference between a banana and a bear claw. Thank you Einstein. However, the difference between a Caesar salad and a chicken club sandwich isn’t always so apparent. This issue was debated in one of my classes recently. Part of the discussion involved the class (all graduate nutrition students) taking an online test of which foods were healthiest from various chain restaurants.  As a whole, the class got a 50%. These are people who STUDY nutrition and are asked to shell out big bucks to learn/know this information, so don’t tell me it’s always so obvious.

Honestly, I don’t care if you like the labels or hate them.  My question is, are they effective for the general population? Personally, I think something is better than nothing. If I had a nickel for every time the word “obesity” was uttered in one of my classrooms, the interests on my student loans would probably be paid off by now. True story. Do I think this menu makeover is going to solve the obesity epidemic? No, but every little bit helps. As the guy with the glasses says above, some restaurants revamped some of their menu items to create healthier options for their customers because of this labeling demand. Is this really such a bad thing?

image from latimes.com

What I love most about this debate is when people argue that the government doesn’t have a right to intervene in what people eat. Are they? I hadn’t noticed.  If you call the government mandating restaurants put nutrition information on their menus as intervening, then yeah sure. I would classify intervening as some dude from the FDA standing at every McDonalds counter in America informing you what you’re allowed to order based on your BMI. Last time I checked, this wasn’t the case.

It’s kind of the government’s jam to protect the public’s health.  It’s been this way for years.  While they have been known to drop the ball on an occasion or two, this is just part of their responsibility. I am sorry Wendy’s created the Baconater (which has 1330 calories and 38 grams of saturated fat) and will probably modify the burger because that kind of information on a menu board just makes them look like murders. I understand you have the right to choose what you put into your body and I agree whole-heartedly with you. What I don’t agree with is consumerism that kills. Ignorance is bliss, but you know what isn’t bliss? Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Major Buzzkill here, reporting for duty!

When I tell people I am studying nutrition a common response I hear over and over again is, “I just don’t have time to eat healthy.”  Externally I say to you, “Yeah, it can be challenging in the beginning to turn over a new leaf” – or something to that effect. Internally I think, okay, but will you have time for disease later?  Excuse me while I get down from this soap box.  Ever since Mitt Romney took this thing to Iowa, it’s been very unstable. “People are corporations too, my friend.”  If Mitt Romney ever calls me his friend again, so help me God I will demand he call Oprah and Gail for a proper definition of the word friendship.  Have he and I ever taken a cross-country road trip together? No. Weeeeeeelllll, we did go maple syrup tasting in Vermont but that was just a PR stunt.  He had fake cheesiness written all over him during our tour through that miniature dollhouse museum.

If you don’t want to see nutrition information on a restaurant menu or you don’t think it’s necessary, I have good news for you.  Don’t read it. If you do not care about the calories in your food, then feel free to ignore the signs. It’s just that simple.  Other than putting a burden on restaurants, what harm is this movement going to impose on the consumer? I suppose if you’re a true pessimist, you’re response to that hypothetical would be a guilty conscience. Fair enough. In the video clip above J. Justin Wilson says, “You know sometimes a burger should just be a burger.” JJW – I agree! I really do.  Unfortunately, as of 2010 one in three adults in the United States is obese according to the CDC. The time has come for informed decision making as a whole when it comes to eating food outside the home. It’s no secret that behavior change is hard. I think the public not only needs this information, I also think it’s ready for it.  And that’s coming from a girl who drank four beers and split an order of nachos with a fellow nutrition student last Tuesday night. I’m no saint.

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