March 1 marks the beginning of National Nutrition Month – an annual campaign that is sponsored by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The goals are simple – raise awareness of informed food choices, good eating habits, and exercise. Another stated goal is to “promote the ADA and its members to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information.”
Noble goals indeed, and very timely.
But is “Nutrition Month” effective at all?
A few observations from endless conversation with dietitians, consumers, and food brands:
1. “Scientifically based” is problematic for many people, who refuse to be pacified by soothing assurances, even if they come from the ADA and the government (FDA).
Example: Artificial food colorings. Red #40 has been shown to mess with kids’ neural activity. It is being phased out in Europe. And yet here, studies (many paid for by the food industry) say it’s perfectly safe. The fact that junk food companies are sponsoring the ADA does not help either.
Another example: margarine was touted as the “cure” for saturated fat of butter, but it turned out to be even worse due to trans-fat. What foods are being recommended as healthy today that we’ll be shaking our heads at 20 years from now?
Yet another example: High fructose corn syrup. Science has been saying it is no different than sugar for 30 years. And yet many people shun it as if it were the devil. Whether or not HFCS is bad or not, its presence in a food is a sure indicator that is overly processed, has inferior ingredients and is poor in nutritional value.
Get where we’re going with this?
2. A drop in a bucket. While Nutrition Month is a nice idea, over at Micky D’s and Coke, every month is junk food month. Actually every hour of every day. Hands down, on every media you can think of, people are more apt to meet a promotion for a burger or liquid candy (aka Soda) than they are for anything healthy. Money buys mindshare, and the “good guys” fighting the nutrition war are severely underfunded.
3. Dietitians are an unaffordable luxury. We’ve spoken with many people who could use dietetic help. For the most part, they seem content in finding information online instead of visiting a real-life dietitian. But the same people don’t hesitate to go to their family physician the minute someone is feeling ill.
So why doesn’t every household have a family dietitian?
We think dietitians are a crucial part of fixing America’s health problems. It’s just that Doctors get all the respect, money and attention, not dietitians. And because doctors visits are so expensive, we pay medical insurance that lets each individual doctor’s visit be relatively cheap. Nobody will think twice about a co-pay of $10 or $20. But a session with a dietitian will cost you $100. Who can afford that?
Will insurance companies wake up and start to subsidize dietitian visits? We certainly hope so. Because ultimately, obesity and food disease prevention is much cheaper than “cure-ation“.