Still playing catch-up, but I wanted to draw attention to this link that I only saw because of Ta-Nehisi: the USDA actually told people to eat less for health in their latest round of recommendations. So, health care reform has definitely influenced policy outside of just medicine, as expected. Or that’s my guess, anyway, because in the past the possibility that the USDA would actually tell people to restrict how much food they ate seemed remote to impossible. But with a renewed interest in saving money because of health care reform, the equation almost surely changed, and now the USDA had financial pressures coming not just from the food industry, but from health care sectors that have to find ways to cut costs or else.
The NY Times article doesn’t even begin to address how big a deal this is. The USDA has been stymied and blocked at every turn for decades on this front. At best, they’ve been able to say you should eat more fruits and vegetables, and they just sort of hoped you took a hint and therefore ate less of everything else. Marion Nestle’s entire book Food Politics was basically a reaction to her experiences with the USDA and the FDA, and how the food industry was able to manipulate all the recommendations to send the message that people should be eating more, especially eating more meat, dairy, and refined foods. The only thing the government got past these powerful lobbies were recommendations to eat sugar and fat sparingly; the meat industry felt they could take advantage of those particular recommendations, and that’s basically why.
I don’t know how much this sort of thing actually impacts people, but the food industry is clearly scared to death of government recommendations to eat less. I think it’s actually because, believe it or not, such a recommendation undermines the dieting mentality. Right now, our culture is one where people are basically encouraged to stuff themselves all the time, and then when they feel they’ve gained too much weight, go on highly restrictive diets to lose it, which they can’t wait to go off of and go back to “normal”, where they gain it all back. This obviously benefits the food industry in multiple ways—they can feed you the food that makes you gain weight, and then feed you diet products, rinse and repeat. The notion that we should be eating less than the current average as a matter of course hurts the food industry. But the notion of having a lifestyle instead of going on a diet is growing in popularity already; maybe this will help it along.