Saturday, June 03, 2006

Forcing Restaurants To Cut Portions, Calories Is Not The Government's Job

Penelope Royall says restaurants are expanding American waistlines

This Washington Post column about a new government report targeting restaurants in the battle against obesity proves yet again why the government doesn't have any business meddling in the affairs of businesses and individuals -- especially when it comes to issues of diet and nutrition.

It seems a 134-page FDA-sponsored report (can I have the Cliff's Notes version?!) called "Away-From-Home Foods: Opportunities for Preventing Weight Gain and Obesity Report" has zeroed in on the 900,000 restaurants as the reason for the obesity problem in America. As a result, the FDA (I told you they could make an impact on your life more than you realize!) is almost demanding restaurants cut down their portions and calories in favor of more low-fat/low-calorie/portion-controlled meals in their report.

The director of health promotion in the Department of Health and Human Services Penelope Royall believes restaurants need to bear the burden of responsibility for leading the American people down the path to obesity.

"We must take a serious look at the impact these foods are having on our waistlines," said Royall.

While I can certainly appreciate and understand the logic that we should look at the role restaurants play in making decidedly unhealthy foods available to Americans on a whim at virtually every corner, I do not believe the government should be the one strongarming the restaurant industry about this. The government can't lose weight for you!

Restaurants are in business to make money by giving the consumer exactly what they want. If the restaurant customer wants to buy a "super-sized" meal to eat, then it would be in the best financial interest of the restaurants to offer these kind of meals. At the same time, if someone is watching their weight and wants to eat a smaller or healthier meal, then making those options available and allowing the market forces to work will satisfy that market as well.

The reason "healthier" options at restaurants don't do as well is not because of the restaurants that offer these foods, but rather in the final choices that are ultimately made by the consumer. If someone goes into a fast food restaurant to buy a burger and fries, guess who made that decision? It was the fast food customer, NOT the fast food company. The company is merely providing a product that meets the needs of the customer base.

If restaurants are marketing their products too convincingly to the public, then it must be the public who demands more out of these businesses and urging them to provide healthier options. The government needs to stay out of legislating what businesses can and cannot do as a means for promoting good health because it is none of their business. If there was enough of an outrage about this, then a grassroots effort would bring about change.

What the government CAN do about public health and obesity is get rid of the ridiculous Food Pyramid that has done NOTHING to improve the American diet and has produced years of frustration and agony among those who sincerely want to lose weight and keep it off. Perhaps they could open the door of opportunity to ALL nutritional approaches, not the least of which on that list should be the low-carb lifestyle which has changed the lives of so many people just like me. THAT is an initiative the FDA and other government-health cronies should be looking at, not taking dead aim at restaurants.

The report was prepared by the Colorado-based public policy institute called the Keystone Center and they concluded that the American people eat one-third of their calories somewhere besides their home. Additionally, we are eating an average of 300 MORE calories as of 2000 than we were in 1985 according to statistics from the Department of Agriculture.

Lamenting that two out of three Americans are either overweight or obese at an annual cost to our healthcare system of $93 billion, the report wants to point the finger at restaurants jumping on a popular bandwagon that they are to blame for obesity. As someone who used to weigh over 400 pounds and was able to get my weight under control, I could not disagree more.

Certainly, restaurants could do a better job of giving healthier options to people, the fact is that they will only do what the consumer demands. As much as I would love to have a sugar-free dessert option at a restaurant, that won't happen until enough people are vocal enough to convince a company to begin offering one. It's that simple.

Requiring the calories, fat, and carbs to be listed on the menu or food packaging is a novel approach, but most people don't want to know what's in the food they are eating. When I see people eating something unhealthy and ask them, "Do you know how many carbs you are eating?," most of them reply back, "I don't want to know." The same goes for these restaurant meals. People who want to know can go to the restaurant's web site and find the information, but the rest of the people just don't care.

THAT is a problem, but it is not going to be fixed by forcing restaurants to cut their portions, reduce their calories, and share nutritional information with the consumer on the menus or food packaging. Changes must be made, but they must fall on the individual to make. Stop blaming others for your obesity and start taking control of your own health and weight before it's too late!


Blogger said...

I agree that the government should try to control the restaurants but hopefully the report will bring to light how important portion control is in the fight against obesity

6/03/2006 6:57 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Do you mean that you agree that the government should NOT try to control restaurants? Obviously it is a good thing that attention is being brought to this issue, but as I said in my post, it must be the responsibility of the person who spends their money at the restaurant, not the restaurant itself. GET A DOGGIE BAG!!! :D

6/03/2006 7:04 PM  
Blogger Jan/ said...

Mr. Moore,
Please e-mail me your e-mail address. I have some questions about re-starting a low carb way of life.
(I can respond, but can't initiate e-mails right now due to a problem with my e-mail set-up.)
Thank you.

6/03/2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger Lowcarb_dave said...

It's scary how these Conservative governments currently in power in the USA and Australia want to 'control' every aspect of our lives.

Whatever the government does, it always ends up making the situation worse - like promoting High Carb Low Fat.

I agree with you Jimmy that the government needs to stay away from our dinner table.

I know when my blood sugar was 'out of control' at 473 pounds, it wasn't a factor of being served larger servings. My out of control blodd sugar, made me a ravenous eating machine!

Overweight people will simply order two meals, or go to a couple of restaurants in one night!

6/04/2006 4:01 AM  
Blogger Mark F said...

There is a difference between ordering changes and suggesting changes.

Right after Supersize Me came out there was a story of a woman who lost a lot of weight eating only at Mickey D's. Ate a lot of salads, drank water or diet and seems like skipped eating fries.

The core of weight loss is controlling what goes in your body. You can lose weight on a lemon pie diet if you have control, but then it was a control issue that leads one to needing a diet.

I don't see a limit being imposed to how many calories can be served or how many fat grams or whatever. Yet it does make sense to point out to the hospitality industry that they aren't making the weight problem any better with bad practices.

6/04/2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Hey Mark,

Actually, I blogged about the lady who lost weight eating at McDonald's and it was all about the choices in what she ate. And her story makes my point exactly. Blaming restaurants for obesity because they make unhealthy food available should be the job of the consumer fed up with it. IT'S NOT THE GOVERNMENT'S JOB TO DO THIS! :D

6/04/2006 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave you are mistaken about conservative governments, at least in regards to the USA. I am a conservative myself, and certainly do NOT believe in government micro-managing my life. I am a staunch supporter of individual liberties. It's actually the liberals and democrats who want government to control stuff like health care. In case you didn't notice, our friend Jimmy is a conservative as well. =)

No conservative ever proposed any of the numerous bans that we have on smoking in restaurants and other public buildings such as courthouses or city halls.

True conservatism promotes liberty and at the same time is strong on PERSONAL responsibility instead of the government holding our hands on everything. Limited government and all that.

6/04/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

The Governement would do wise to focus on the QUALITY of foods served in restaurants instead of the QUANTITY. But it would be best if they would not interfere at all. It's like Dave said: Whatever the government does, it always ends up making the situation worse.

6/04/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

The government should make guidelines, not impose laws on restaurants on menu choices or portion sizes. The customer is then free to select what he will eat and how much.

On the other hand, the government can determine the healthful of ingredients that restaurants (and food processors) use and legislate accordingly because customers cannot be expected to know everything that is good or bad for them. This is a matter of public health, not individual choice. The government has already prohibited the use of trans fats by food processors for products on the grocery store shelves. We should legislative similarly for restaurants. Restaurant customers cannot be expected to analyze everything on the menu every time they go out to eat. On the other hand, here's where the controversy makes such legislation difficult. What if the restaurant substitutes corn oil for trans fats? We still don't know if corn oil (or lard or cottonseed oil, etc. etc.) have a negative impact on health. But I don't think we can definitely order restaurants to use only grapeseed and olive oils. What about butter?

Then, the government should educate the public and let the public vote with its pocketbook. I patronize restaurants that, to the best of my knowledge, create meals with wholesome food and healthful ingredients, regardless of portion size. It's up to me to eat as much as I should and bring any leftovers home for another meal. And it's up to me to shun restaurants whose food I know is not good for me.

6/04/2006 2:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The obesity problem is because of companies that put high fructose corn syrup in everything from bread to every sweet item. A nutrituionist told me that HFCS keeps the chemical that signals your brain that you're full from working properly. So you just keep eating and eating.

Oh...smoking issue...every restaurant (including bars) are smoke free in California by law. And thank God because I can actually go out to eat or have a drink and BREATH.

Smoking is a public health issue. No matter how healthy my restaurant choices are, I have no choice about where someone's smoke drifts, and neither to the waitresses who service tables in those areas. If someone wants a cigarette they can step outside and smoke and then come back in.

6/04/2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Gary: guidelines are fine, as long as they are based on objective, measureable, quantifiable scientific facts. But even one cursory look at the current "guidelines" the Government provides proves that they are seriously flawed (to state it mildly). The current obesity and diabetic epidemic is for the largest part the result of Government and semi-Gov't guidelines, propaganda and regulations. Many completely preventable illnesses and ailments are the direct result of Gov't interference.

Without wanting to sound as a conspiracy buff, I don't trust Gov't anymore. Do you? Can we trust them to do anything right? I highly doubt it. Sure, they require labeling and banned trans-fats: but only after decades (!) of evidence completely forced them to finally do something about it. And guess who brought upon the change? Not the scientific establishment. No, outsiders, renegades and pioneers with courage, like dr. Robert C. Atkins: those are the people that brought about the change - and paid the price for it. Gov't is only good at enforcing (violently even, sometimes) the status quo.

Part of the problem here are the so-called "health" groups and organizations: these groups of noisy negativists, together with vested interests influence Gov't often in a far too big way. Those with the best friends and promotors (plus free exposure) in media often "win" the argument at the expense of real, objective, hard science. There are countless examples of that - for example the discussion about saturated fats. Despite a total lack of even a shred of evidence these essential nutrients were completely demonized in the media, with complete and official Gov't backing. Only now, after 4 decades of evidence to the contrary, there are SOME in Gov't willing to admit that indeed there is something called "essential fats". A total outrage that has done incredible damage.

And that's only one example! All the more reason NOT to trust them for anything. The Gov't should concentrate on the (few) things it is good at: collecting taxes and keeping a reasonable degree of law and order, and perhaps defense.

For the rest, I think it would be best to keep them out of our lives as much as possible: and their greedy little fingers out of our wallets. Maybe I am overly cynical here, but I really feel that history clearly has shown this to be the best for all parties involved - in almost every country.

6/04/2006 10:32 PM  

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