We need to reorient our cultural attitude about obesity so it is not an excuse to argue the respective merits of personal responsibility and public policy. Rather, if we are to fix it at its origins, we need to acknowledge that people who are empowered are most capable, and most inclined, to exercise responsibility.
In the aftermath of his commentary about butter in the New York Times, Mark Bittman and I -- along with several others, including Dr. Dariush Mozzafarian from Harvard, one of the authors of the study that set this all in motion -- were invited to discuss the health effects of butter on the NPR program, "On Point," this morning.
No, it is not suddenly good to eat more saturated fat -- and the new study grabbing headlines showed no such thing. The study, a meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows the following two things in particular: (1) you cannot get a good answer to a bad question; and (2) there is more than one way to eat badly.
Improving food labels, as planned by the USFDA and much in the news over the past week or so, is a welcome thing. But I do think we have cause to wonder if all the fanfare and media hype are really warranted. When all is said and done, what improvements are in the works, and how much will they really matter?
As long we impart to nutrition the mediagenic volatility associated with the weather, we can all but guarantee that our understanding of what is good for us will remain very much clouded over. There will also be a very high chance of us acting like meatheads -- and being fed a steady diet of headlines accordingly.
Fortified junk food is still junk food. It isn't only what a food doesn't contain (i.e., those nutrients) that makes it dubious. It's what it does contain. The addition of vitamins and minerals does nothing to exonerate junk foods of their standard provisions of added sugars, added salt, artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, inflammatory fats, high glycemic starches, and willfully irresistible calories.
Here's what we actually know. In the U.S., more dairy in the diet -- of whatever variety -- is generally associated with better health and weight outcomes. But that is likely because in the context of our culture, more dairy means less soda. In global context, some of the world's healthiest diets and most convincing intervention trials have de-emphasized, or even excluded dairy.
There is a point at which invoking personal responsibility to deal with a contrived array of obstacles is both benighted and callous. Yes, everyone should try to eat well -- but they should not have to overcome the ingenious manipulations of highly paid mercenaries conspiring against them to make it so.