Image courtesy of The Verge
Since her early years as First Lady, Michelle Obama has stood in the spotlight as a national advocate for obesity interventions in children. After all, the NIH reports that wholly two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese. In light of the increasingly well-known health consequences of poor weight management and physical inactivity, obesity has become a defining public health issue that my generation must work to resolve.
The First Lady advocated, among multiple other social and institutional initiatives, for a new nutrition facts label. This new label boasts better readability, relevant serving sizes, revised Daily Values, declared added sugars, and a prominent Calorie count per serving. These sound like exciting changes, and Obama contends that “You will no longer need… a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids.”
But critics, such as myself, claim that the new label cannot achieve the goal on its own. For instance, the average Joe cannot be expected to really understand the implications of saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats, let alone the novel hypotheses that different lipid chain lengths vary in their degree of pro-inflammatory response once metabolized and integrated in cell membranes; this means the source of the fat may be yet another important factor to consider beyond simply saturated or unsaturated. On the same coin, separating added sugar from naturally occurring sugar in a food could curb some consumption, but can Joe really be expected to pay much mind to that in a pop environment that discourages consumption of fats and replacing with carbohydrates? Currently, it takes substantial education to sift through the plethora of truths and untruths in the nutrition world, and to dynamically make healthful choices when buying food; these new additions to the label make it easier to make these choices, but still require some degree of information that most Americans simply do not have.
However, what we do know for certain is this: when controlling for growth, energy balance is the primary determinant of body weight throughout the lifespan. Weight gain follows if calories are ‘left over’ in the body from eating too much or being insufficiently active. Coupled with education on adequate caloric intakes and the new portion sizes, the new label’s caloric count can be a powerful tool in fighting the obesity epidemic by curbing overall consumption of food. I echo Dr. Hamblin from The Atlantic in that some of us are left more hopeful, wanting to see more evidence-based food guidance but gradual reforms are the best anyone can hope for in the current climate.