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Home » Health

We can’t say we weren’t warned – but do we care?

Submitted by on Thursday, 27 January 2011 No Comment
There are two types of warning labels in this world:

  • The types that tell us that what we're about to do or consume will shorten our lives, harm our health or turn us into crazed killers. These usually are driven by legislation backed by folks convinced that if we knew the dangers we'd all automatically make what they think is the right decision.
  • The types that warn about eating something not meant for human consumption, eating something that they think should be redesigned for human consumption or using a product will result in death, dismemberment or lesser harm. These usually are driven by legal departments fearful of lawsuits.

Actually, there's only one kind of warning label: Stupid. Research released earlier this month at Duke University pretty much proves that.

According to a study in a Washington State county that had required calorie counts at fast food restaurants, the change had absolutely no impact on consumer behavior.

"The results suggest that mandatory menu labeling, unless combined with other interventions, may be unlikely to significantly influence the obesity epidemic," a Duke researcher said in a news release.

I'm predicting a similar outcome from a food manufacturers' labeling plan that was rolled out this week. Pitched as an alternative to government labeling requirements, the plan would involve a front-of-the-package rundown of nutrition content in four areas, but it also would allow manufacturers to highlight several other "beneficial nutrients," according to the New York Times.

That makes the plan more of a joke than current non-mandatory labeling that easily gives the impression that sugar-laden cereals are healthful because virtually every box touts the amount of whole grain included. While the claims are true enough, they're certainly not the whole picture. If the fast-food study holds for packaged foods, though, I don't need to waste a lot of time being angry about that because no one's paying attention anyway.

What people would pay attention to: Healthier school lunches, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture took a step in that direction recently by changing its nutritional requirements. A sample menu - revised from one that looks stunningly like our school in any given week - demonstrates how dramatic the results will be.

Why does this matter more than labeling? Because it teaches kids from the start to eat more healthful foods. Anecdotally, I can tell you that it works - at least, it did with Big Guy at day camp last summer. Does it work perfectly? No. Not until Mom gets militant and removes candy and chips from the menu. But it's a start.

And it's a better start than giving folks information that they're inclined to ignore anyway.

In the case of labeling, both sides are wrong: The manufacturers who want to tout the "nutrition" in foods that aren't that healthful, and the Food and Drug Administration, which has been involved in protracted negotiations over what mandatory labeling should include.

They both should Stop Wasting America's Time. If the FDA wants to help with labeling, why doesn't it tackle the food allergy issue? Now there's a group that pays attention to labels.

If the government in general wants to curb obesity, it should focus first on the younger generation. The school lunch changes are a good start, but the USDA also should curb massive subsidies for things that are bad for us.

But please don't waste more ink on something that people ignore.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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