To Label or Not to Label - Is That Even Really a Question?
With all of the debate that occurred over the content and passage of the healthcare reform bill of 2010 (H.R. 3590), one argument still rages that makes no sense whatsoever. The bill, signed into law in March of last year, made it mandatory for all restaurants with over 20 locations to display the caloric content of all dishes on menus or serving stations (as in a buffet setting) and to have more in-depth nutrition stats available for the customer at all times. These requirements also apply to vending machines. Unfortunately, as much as the obesity epidemic in this country is costing us, both financially and socially, not everyone is on-board with the new plans. I'd like to highlight the opposition's ridiculous argument against the new laws and also share some related thoughts on the detrimental mindset possessed by many Americans regarding the discussion of proper nutrition and its relationship to public health.
The major argument leading the backlash against menu labeling in restaurants is that some people simply don't want to know what they're eating. They prefer to be blissfully unaware of the content of their meals. They often overtly state that they don't want to feel "guilty" about what they are having for lunch. Unfortunately, that is an argument based on cowardice and, at the same time, attempts to prevent those who do want the information from obtaining it easily. To me, it's akin to what you often see on the TV show "Intervention" that profiles drug and alcohol addicts before, during, and after a family intervention to heal their addiction. When confronted by the damage they are doing to themselves and others, the addict often flatly denies the existence of a problem and becomes extremely defensive, even to the point of physical aggression. In the same vein, people who are eating blatantly harmful food generally know what they're doing to themselves and, if they considered it for a minute, would see how their actions affect the well-being of the country at large. When shown the facts, however, they seem to cower from the truth and hide behind an argument that "eating this food once in a while isn't so bad." The truth is that the folks who actually consume unhealthy food only once in a while don't mind the labels because they don't feel guilty about what they're eating. The people who feel guilty are the ones who regularly make poor choices and understandably don't want to face themselves in the mirror. In the end, their argument makes no sense. It's simply an attempt to continue along in their comfortable state of denial while simultaneously impinging upon the positive efforts of others.
Unfortunately, the mindset of "I don't want to know" is pervasive in this country. I was reading an article recently that presented the results of an interesting recent study into child and adolescent exercise habits in relation to organized sports. The primary message of the article was that even kids who are on sports teams and practice regularly often don't achieve the recommended minimum exercise time. According to the researchers, skill training and other relatively passive activities dominated many team practices.
Despite the intriguing results and the useful advice resulting from the study, a large proportion of public responses to the article were defensive and negative. There were complaints that the readers were being called "bad parents" and that "scientists should stop telling us how to raise our children." These arguments might (though probably not) make sense in a society that had proven itself successful at raising healthy children. However, in a country where close to a quarter of children are either overweight or obese, we need all the help we can get. Again, the outcry against scientists over-advising parents and intruding into personal matters is, I'd have to assume, coming mainly from parents who simply don't want to face that facts about their child's health and their parenting missteps. Parents who actually look out for the best interests of their kids would most likely be receptive to potentially helpful research. Guilt resulting from poor parenting choices is not a good reason to give up efforts towards improvement. If you slack off and don't change your car's oil for 7,000 miles, ignoring the "change oil soon" light isn't going to solve the problem. You simply have to step up and change the oil. Don't hide behind excuses and dodge responsibility for yourself and your children. Take a positive attitude towards new scientifically-guided advice and put the recommendations into action to help your family become happier and healthier.
Denial is not the answer. It's not a good reason to argue against menu labeling and it's not a good reason to berate news outlets for communicating the results of the latest health-oriented research. Our success as a nation and as a species has come primarily from progressive acceptance of new technology and information. The world is not flat, my friends. And our country is not healthy. Take advantage of our robust research and communication systems and use them as tools to guide yourself and your family towards a healthier life. Accept your past mistakes and move on to better habits. You can make positive changes regardless of your current situation. But the first step, as they say, is to admit that you have a problem.
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