The government’s ‘cheesy’ advice

Last week, I was given the opportunity to attend a presentation at Yale University by New York Times investigative reporter and best-selling author, Michael Moss.  If you haven’t read his book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, I highly recommend it. Or, if you are short on time, check out Moss’s New York Times article, The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food.  Both take a deep look at the history of the processed food industry, and how their use of salt, sugar, and fat has contributed to the obesity epidemic.


While I consider myself to be relatively knowledgeable about the ties between the government and Big Food, Moss introduced a video during his presentation that had even my jaw hitting the floor. See for yourself:

This video is just one example of our flawed food system.  How can a single agency, like the USDA, be responsible for both the promotion of commodity foods and the delivery of dietary guidance, when these two responsibilities are so conflicting?  You can’t really expect the USDA to tell Americans to reduce their consumption of a basic commodity, like cheese, when it is also their job to make sure we are eating as much as possible. Instead, as Michael Moss notes, they hand out convoluted advice like this, ‘When eaten in moderation and with attention to portion size, cheese can fit into a low-fat, healthy diet’. Adding cheese to virtually every type of processed food the industry can think of, is definitely not a good exercise in moderation.

I started learning about these agency conflicts of interest while I was in grad school, and have since become a huge advocate for moving the responsibility of providing nutrition and dietary advice from the USDA to an unbiased agency such as the Institute of Medicine.  I think the public would be shocked to discover the changes that would be made to MyPlate guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and even our food assistance programs like SNAP and the National School Lunch Program if an outside agency that wasn’t polluted by corporate interests were to take on the roll. 24sugar1-articleLarge-v3