Power Lunch: Make the Dietary Guidelines mandatory
Maybe the time has come for a little health fascism. Historically, it made for well-disciplined railroad schedules.
By Jon Robison | 05/17/2005
Our government is deeply worried about the health of the American public. According to the experts, we are too fat and too sedentary, and we are eating ourselves into an early grave. Despite repeated warnings, we continue to do exactly as we please, without any concern about the catastrophic health consequences that surely will follow.
With the hope of saving us from guaranteed premature morbidity and mortality (or even worse -- obesity), the government recently released a new set of dietary recommendations for Americans. As in years past, it is highly unlikely that most people will pay attention to the new recommendations and even less likely that they will alter their habitual culinary practices. What's a government to do?
As a doctor of health education, a nutritionist and a concerned citizen, I have been pondering this public health quagmire and I think have a solution. Make the new Dietary Guidelines mandatory! That's right, simply mandate that every man, woman and child must eat according to the guidelines each and every day!
The government could make, and the IRS could distribute, copies of the guidelines to all adults; and to schools, churches and business organizations. Schools could teach the guidelines so that no child would be left behind.
Of course, there would need to be verification. The government could institute Random Food Checks (RFCs) at people's homes and workplaces. Since obesity has been declared more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction (and easier to find) coordination of the RFCs might best be provided by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS officers would carry the latest measuring and weighing devices to enable them to apprehend anyone ingesting inappropriate amounts of restricted substances.
There would be stiff penalties for cheating. Businesses dealing in foods not commensurate with the guidelines would be fined, labeled as unAmerican and potentially shut down. They could plead their cases to the Dietary Guideline Expert Panel (DGEP), composed of individuals who have not eaten fast food or missed a day of exercise in the past year, under the strict auspices of the newly created Dept. for Science in the Public Interest (DSPI).
Because obesity has been declared the nation's No. 1 health problem, neighborhood watch groups could turn their attention away from less important issues like drugs and violence. Pedometers could be issued to all, perhaps by the military, and neighborhood vigilantes could monitor adherence and confiscate the televisions, video screens and cell phones of persons not meeting their Daily Quota of Exercise Minutes (DQEMs).
The new dietary recommendations could make a serious dent in the Great American Waistline, and there could be important collateral benefits. Think of the windfall profits that having to eat according to the guidelines would provide for pharmaceutical companies selling antidepressant and antianxiety medications!
Think of the demand for measuring devices. Every morsel of food would have to be weighed, over time contributing to improved proficiency in mathematics -- making our country more competitive in the world marketplace. Thousands of inspectors would be added to the workforce, greatly reducing the number of people out of work and on welfare.
Think about the Motrin, doctors’ visits and surgeries needed to treat the millions of people having to exercise "at least 60-90 minutes a day" in order to lose weight according to the new guidelines – not to mention the coffee, pop and pills to keep them awake now that they are sleeping 90 fewer minutes a night. Finally, think of the boon for the mental health profession as people spend even less time with their families.
We have heretofore only dabbled with this type of solution -- bringing suit against or threatening to increase taxes on people selling forbidden foods, attaching exercise equipment to television sets, and outlawing cupcakes at school birthday parties. If we are going to get the upper hand on this looming public health calamity it is high time for some tough love.
Health information, persuasion, coercion and fear have failed to motivate us to do and eat the right things. Maybe the time has come for a little health fascism. Historically, it made for well-disciplined railroad schedules -- maybe it can do the same for our dietary and exercise habits.
Only time will tell if this radical plan will have the desired effects. But desperate times call for desperate measures. It is said that death and taxes are the only two things of which we can be sure. In 21st century America, it may soon be death, taxes and The Dietary Guidelines.
Jonathan Robison (www.jonrobison.net) holds a doctorate in health education/exercise physiology and a master of science in human nutrition from Michigan State University, where he is adjunct assistant professor. He has authored numerous articles on a variety of health-related topics and is a frequent presenter at local and national conferences. A version of this article originally appeared on
Tech Central Station.com.