Federal dietary guidelines bring new nanny-state concerns

Doug McKelway reports


New federal dietary guidelines are due to come out next year, and critics say early drafts suggest they may represent a new nanny-state intrusion – calling for Internet-based "weigh-ins" and government text messages to overweight people meant to help them shed the pounds.

Critics also fear the guidelines, which are subject to revision every five years, may go well beyond nutrition to address the planet’s health, too.  At a March 14 meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, committee member Miriam Nelson of Tufts University said: "The question that we're spending the most time on right now is really, what is the relationship between population level dietary patterns as a whole and long-term food sustainability and related food security?"

Phrases like “sustainability,” “climate change,” “organic,” and “locally grown” are a part of the guideline discussions, much to the consternation of some critics.

"These are nutritional guidelines that, even if you do buy into global climate change, have nothing to do with nutrition," said Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Take meat, for example. Because cattle require a lot of space to graze and they produce methane -- a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide -- Stier fears that beef will fall out of favor in the guidelines.

"All types of meat, not just red meat," said Stier. "They're trying to discourage meat consumption as part of these dietary guidelines and trying to push us back to an exclusively plant-based diet. It makes no sense from a nutritional perspective."

At the same March 14 meeting of the Advisory Committee, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sonia Angell, who led the banning of trans fats in New York City restaurants under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, suggested such a ban should be carried out nationwide. "It's not about individual decision-making anymore," she said, "because the opportunity here is to remove it from the food supply."

There is no question that America is facing a rising epidemic of obesity, and this is something the new guidelines are trying to address.

"Whatever we're doing now, personal responsibility is not working," said John Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. Banzhaf is known for spearheading litigation against tobacco companies. He's using the same techniques against food companies and restaurants. "A third of our kids now in school are going to get diabetes. It's costing us 200 billion dollars a year, so we're all paying for it," he said.

Outside of school lunches, the military and the food stamp program, the guidelines have no enforcement authority, so proponents believe the fears are overstated.

"I'm not the food police," said Banzhaf. "If I tell you your bacon cheeseburger has 1,400 calories and it's really going to increase your chance of being fat and you order two of them, that's your personal choice."

Doug McKelway joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in November 2010 and serves as a Washington-based correspondent. Click here for more information on Doug McKelway