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A Call to Action: Fixing Big Food to Fight Diet-Related Diseases

September 10, 2009

In an informative New York Times Op-Ed piece today by Michael Pollan, the author makes a compelling argument that in order to significantly and substantially  reduce our nation’s health care costs, it needs to step up the plate and overhaul the food industry. He points out what many of us registered dietitians and other health professionals have long known–that much of the money we spend on health care relate to diet- and lifestyle-related diseases such type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and even cancer.

Everyone knows that an overabundance of high calorie, high fat, high sodium, sugar-laced foods and beverages available not only in grocery stores, but anywhere and everywhere we frequent including schools, airports, amusement and ball parks, theaters, convenience and drug stores, and even city sidewalks contributes markedly to Americans’ poor diet. Highly palatable fried, greasy, and/or saucy foods found in fast food restaurants or fancier, fine dining establishments add to the sabotage and make it difficult if not impossible for even health-conscious consumers to eat well. As someone who has successfully lost weight and kept it off for years, I can tell you from my own experience that it takes a lot of will, determination, focus, and everyday behavioral strategies (brushing and flossing are my favorites!) to eat well, resist temptation, indulge mindfully, and incorporate regular physical activity into your life. The environment in so many ways sabotages us to make more healthful choices and decisions each day, and sometimes it’s just easier for people to go with the flow, eat whatever, whenever, and wherever (just because everyone else is) and call it a day.

I do believe that the food industry has taken some steps as of late to offer more healthful fare by reducing sodium, fat, and sugar in products, or offering items in smaller single-serve portions. But we have a long way to go to reduce our collective waistline, reduce the incidence of obesity and overweight, and prevent those diet and lifestyle-related diseases many of us have or are expected to have in years to come.

There’s no one solution to our health care woes, but hopefully Michael Pollan’s powerful words will serve as a wake up call to help the government take the necessary steps, as unpopular or unwelcome as they may be, to make it easier for Americans to curb individual food intake, consume more healthier fare, and be more active–with the government’s help and our own personal will, we have a better chance of enjoying a reduced disease risk and better quality of life. Who wouldn’t want that?


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