Saving People from Gluttony

Ph02147j On Friday the headlines were about the "Keystone Forum on Away-From-Home Foods: Opportunities for Preventing Weight Gain and Obesity," known as the Keystone Report.

The subsequent FDA recommended actions include:

  • enhancing the food label to display calorie count more prominently and to use meaningful serving sizes
  • initiating a consumer education campaign focusing on the "Calories Count" message
  • encouraging restaurants to provide nutritional information to consumers
  • stepping up enforcement actions concerning accuracy of food labels
  • revising FDA guidance for developing drugs to treat obesity
  • working cooperatively with other government agencies, non-profits, industry, and academia on obesity research

Despite the broad nature of the plan, a great deal of the coverage was focused on restaurants and whether or not they should be telling consumers what they are eating.  If you saw or read the coverage, you might have come away thinking that the FDA was going to require restaurants to list caloric and fat content to customers.  Here, however is what the report actually said – emphasis added by me:

"Restaurants/Industry Recommendation Highlights:

  • Short-term
    • Urge restaurant industry to launch a nation-wide, voluntary, and point-of-sale nutrition information campaign for consumers.
    • Encourage consumers routinely to request nutrition information in restaurants
  • Long-term
    • Development of a series of options for providing voluntary, standardized, simple, and understandable nutrition information, including calorie information, at the point-of-sale to consumers in restaurants.
      • FDA to seek participating restaurants for a pilot program to study these options in well controlled studies
      • FDA to provide incentives, if necessary, for voluntary industry participation in the pilot program.
      • FDA to evaluate results of the pilot program to determine whether further research is warranted before such a program is implemented on a large scale.
    • Exploration of the concept of third-party certification of weight-loss diet plans and related products.

Nowhere, thankfully, does it say restaurants will be required to tell you how fat your are getting eating their food.  Personally, when I am engaged in my weekly delight of eating raw oysters at Hank’s Oyster Bar, I don’t care to be reading about what I’m consuming.  I care to be enjoying what I’m consuming.  There are other places for me to learn about food – frankly the restaurant is not one of those places.  A restaurant is where I go when I’ve already made up my mind about what I want to eat. 

Sometimes, when the media want a good story, I think they make one up.  On Friday, that wasn’t fair to the FDA. 

Food doesn’t make people fat.  People make people fat.  Our society is not one that is used to the idea of restraint – as evidenced by people who drive Hummers and don’t seem to have the sense to be embarrassed about it.  Likewise, people eat too much and exercise too little because it is what they choose to do, not because they fall victim to restaurants. 

The aim of the Keystone Report is laudable.  America does need to be less fat, as a walk through any airport will evidence.  Wow, there are some big folks out there.  The many ways it recommends education should be explored.  Restaurants, however, should probably not be the focus. 

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