Junkfood Science: U.S. government officials weigh in on labeling “good” and “bad” foods

February 15, 2007

U.S. government officials weigh in on labeling “good” and “bad” foods

This past weekend, Spiked-online reported on the bad science behind the UK government’s Food Standards Agency in their labeling of certain foods as “healthy” foods and imposing advertising bans on foods they believe are “junk.” The healthfulness of foods, according to these government officials, is determined by their calories, salt, sugar and fat.

Not only is the nutritional science faulty, but with no evidence to back up such interventions, it’s not surprising that they’re having bad outcomes. Eating disorder specialists in the UK told the Times that health policies focusing on healthy eating and preventing obesity have gone too far. According to the Times story:

Anti-obesity message 'is driving girls to anorexia'

Children are becoming obsessed with calorie-counting and face increased playground bullying about their weight as a result of the Government’s antiobesity campaign, experts said yesterday. Pupils are overloaded with information about healthy eating, which can lead to a preoccupation with food and fuel the development of eating disorders, according to the specialists.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, told The Times that the focus on healthy eating has made life more difficult for many young people. “I am concerned that the emphasis on childhood obesity is having a backlash. We know people who are bullied about their shape are far more likely to develop eating disorders and there is now even more focus on overweight young people,” she said.

Health campaigners have pushed successfully for clearer nutritional labelling on food, but Ms Ringwood argued that for those vulnerable to eating problems, the prevalence of information on calories and fat content is unhelpful. “Even things intended to be helpful, such as traffic lights for high-fat foods, play into the hands of people who are obsessed about eating. It gives them more to obsess about....[Food] is not just fuel.”

California politicians are following suit on this side of the pond. Scripps News reports on recently introduced bills to promote healthy eating and take action against obesity. Their initiatives center around labeling the calories, fat, salt and sugar of various foods, equating them with measures of nutrition and health. Bills are also weighing in on trans fats, disregarding the scientific evidence discussed here and here. The news story:

Legislators want healthier menu

Here’s something to chew on: If several California lawmakers get their way, how you eat might be changed for good....

Menus would be filled with fat percentages, sodium contents and calorie counts. And trans fats would be banned. The bills, introduced in recent weeks, seek to promote healthier eating— or at least better awareness of what's in food.

...“For almost 25 years, they’ve been silently killing us with how they cook the food,” Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia said. “It’s government's responsibility to use its powers of persuasion when it’s absolutely a health and safety issue.” The proposals are modeled after a New York City ban that was approved in December. Lawmakers in at least 13 states have jumped on the bandwagon...

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