In this week’s news: Michelle Obama hits a spork in the road to school lunch reform; researchers give a quick lesson on food costs and weight gain; and a former restaurant critic says it’s time to give up on the miracle diet pills already.
First (Lunch) Lady
Segments of the food industry and Republican legislators have criticized the 2010 federal dietary school lunch standards (called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act), citing lack of flexibility and questioning their cost and effectiveness. The School Nutrition Association, a group representing cafeteria administrators, say enrollment has gone down after the standards — which limit sodium, fat and calories, and require that fruits, vegetables and whole grains replace unhealthy menu choices. Adding bite to that bark is a new measure that would allow poorer school districts to opt out of the program. This week, Michelle Obama has been speaking out strongly against this move, penning a New York Times Op Ed that cites some tough numbers: One in three children is overweight of obese, one in three children is expected to develop diabetes, and currently $190 billion a year is spent treating obesity-related conditions. These lunch regulations can help, says Sam Kass, White House chef and the director of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, who cites academic studies showing that all children were eating healthier after the standards were established.
Food Prices Are Right, But Our Weight Isn’t
We like to blame rising obesity rates on things like cost and being so incredibly busy, but a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the RAND corporation has found that, in actuality, we’re exercising more, have more leisure time and even have more access to fresh and affordable food than we did in decades past. Moreover, while disparities exist among economic, educational, and ethnic groups, most have seen their obesity levels rise at similar rates. In other words, we all appear to be getting fatter at the same pace. What gives? When the researchers dug deeper, they learned this: The percent of disposable income we spent on food dropped from 1970 to 2010. But not because we’re cutting back. The price of food has also decreased, and while cost of fruits and vegetables has actually gone down by 20 percent since the 1970s, the cost of junk food is still even less and also getting lower. What this tells them is that our problem might not be too little access to good food — but too much access to all food. Definitely something to chew on.
Dietary Hope in a Jar
Ever heard of Garcinia Cambogia? According to one commercial label, pills containing extracts of this exotic fruit can block fat absorption, suppress appetite and regulate emotional eating. But dig a little deeper and it turns out all these claims are shaky at best. In his most recent Op Ed column, Frank Bruni of the New York Times (once the paper’s restaurant critic) uses his own overstocked supplement cabinet (which just might harbor a half-full bottle of Garcina Cambogia) as a call to action for cracking down — as consumers — on the fad pills and plans that promise big, and deliver, well, very little. Specifically, Bruni points to Dr. Oz, whose enormously popular show and website endorse products with words like “magic,” “miracle” and “revolutionary.” This kind of language, Bruni argues, is pushing the envelope on our quick-fix habit and needs to be curtailed.