Why the disconnect between food facts and what we eat?
Every day in America we hear about healthy eating. Messages are on TV, in magazines, popular books and all over the Internet. Do they work? Let’s look at some typical American stories.
Scene 1: Cake and ice cream for the children
Not long ago at an elementary school in Texas, the school administration established a rule barring from school premises certain types of food that it considered unhealthy. The list included cake and ice cream brought in by parents to celebrate students’ birthdays. The response was an uproar among parents. The school administrators were trying to model and enforce healthy eating for the school’s students and to interrupt the continuous flow of cake and ice cream as each student’s birthday was celebrated. The parents, on the other hand, focused on the children’s experience. They felt that the school was taking away the children’s fun. The school was forced to rescind the policy. Cake and ice cream returned to the class room.
Scene 2: Nothing’s too refined for the adults
I have a close friend. He is bright, cares about people and cares about his health. He had a project creating a curriculum to improve the dietary habits of middle schoolers. He is a soldier in the battle to improve children’s nutrition. During this project, I shared information with him on the foundations of good nutrition, specifically the merits of whole foods and the problems caused by diets tilted toward refined foods, especially sugar, refined grains and oil. The next day we got together for breakfast at The Original Pancake House restaurant. My friend ordered a dish called shells, which are crepes sprinkled with powdered sugar – that is, a dish made up entirely of sugar, refined grains and oil.
Scene 3: The family that eats together …
On the television show, Trading Spouses, two families with very different styles traded spouses (platonically) for a week. In one episode, a health-food-oriented man was inserted into a junk-food-oriented, overweight family. This pairing was a match made in hell. When the week was over, the junk-food family was reunited and interviewed about the experience. The mother proudly explained that, “We don’t eat green things in our family.” All seemed relieved to be rid of “the health nut” as they tore into a very large pizza with extra cheese.
What have we learned?
Scenes like these are played out every day throughout America. Much of America eats too much cake and ice cream, refined foods, pizza and rejects green food. And we pay a price for it in increased obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, crippling health care spending and perhaps most importantly, a diminished quality of life. That is a shame for the people and for our society.
Americans are resistant to changing eating habits
No doubt, these people have been exposed to the “5-a-day” and “fruits & veggies – more matters” campaigns and other efforts to educate and motivate people to eat a healthy diet. But people’s eating habits are remarkably resistant to change.
The underlying causes of our poor eating habits and their persistence are complex. They include economics, biology, psychology, culture, education, government policies and so much more. Repairing this situation is going to take some doing.
In future blogs, we will examine what we as individuals can do to manage our own diets, and we will dive deeply into the nature of this complex mess we are in.