Industrial Editorial: Dairy Industry Caught in a Storm
The good food/bad food discussion appears to be picking up steam even though today's "bad" food may be considered healthy tomorrow. It wasn't long ago that nuts were considered nutritional villains because of their fat content. Today they are praised for containing the "right" kind of fat.
There are state legislation and grassroots initiatives to limit high-fat, high-calorie foods in schools. There's even talk of requiring labels for high-fat (and high-sugar) foods and taxing other foods at retail.
Food companies fear they will take the blame for the obesity epidemic. Fast food companies have been criticized for their “super-size” marketing initiatives. Comparisons are being drawn to the war on tobacco, with anti-tobacco lawyers believed to be developing potential strategies for bringing more obesity-related claims against food makers.
The movement has some health leaders discounting the impact of educational interventions in favor of mass population policy and legislative initiatives. That is, changing the environment in which foods are purchased - accentuating foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting the availability of foods deemed to be poor nutritional choices. While today's discussion focuses on banning soft drinks from schools, it's not a big leap to expand the discussion to other foods considered high in calories or fat, even those found in the food groups. Full fat dairy products have long been a target in these kinds of discussions.
All of this plays out as USDA reevaluates food options in government child feeding programs and the Food Guide Pyramid is scrutinized for potential revision with dairy and meat at the center of both discussions. We’re likely to see individual commodities “fighting for real estate” or new positioning in a reorganized Pyramid.
It's a turbulent climate for industry groups trying to shape nutrition policy or consumer eating patterns. The Dairy Council of California (DCC) has been the foundation for nutrition education in the Golden state for more than three decades. It is on target to reach 2 million California school children next year with its classroom and Web education programs. Another 2 million consumers will be reached annually with education programs designed for healthcare patients. These programs equally tout all food groups and emphasize low-fat choices as in the Food Guide Pyramid. Not only does DCC program instruction show increases in dairy food consumption but fruit and vegetable usage also goes up while soda and high-calorie, high-fat choices decline.
It's up to us to demonstrate to the rest of the health community that education can be effective at moving consumers to healthier food selections when behavioral (vs. information-only) strategies are in place. This means respecting the rights of individuals to make informed food choices given a multitude of variables (e.g., taste, family and cultural traditions, personal circumstances) as well as nutritional content. The philosophical centerpiece of our behavioral education strategies lies with offering individuals the skills and motivation for guiding choices not eliminating options. It can and is being done.