The same question came to mind when I read the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) updated dietary guidelines released earlier this year. While I applaud the effort, I have to wonder if the guidelines are or even could be reality for most Americans. The 5-a-day program suggests we consume 5-9 servings per day of fruit and vegetables. Sure it's a healthy way to eat, but I honestly don't know too many people who do it.
No wonder most consumers are hopelessly in the dark over the battle against obesity. Quite seriously, I think future HHS guidelines should include examples of things that real people eat such as a 6-oz. slice of pizza; a large order of fries; or three mint Girl Scout cookies. For example, one slice of pizza with vegetables is permitted once every two weeks. Or one 4-oz. serving of French fries per month is permitted. Wouldn't that give the public something with which they could honestly relate?
On most days, I consume two mixed green salads. A co-worker recently told me I am not getting enough nutrition from the greens and should be eating things like spinach and broccoli instead. This made me wonder where most Americans get their nutrition information and if they really understand it. Research has actually shown that some Americans think trans fat is good for them. Probably, just like me, the public gets the majority of its nutrition information from friends, family and an occasional television news report. And, if after nearly 20 years as a food editor, I'm unsure about nutrition, you can bet the average American has no clear idea what to eat-let alone how to burn it off.
According to the 2005 guidelines, "to help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy body weight gain in adulthood: Engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not exceeding caloric intake requirements." Unless you are a Hollywood star, a member of the idle rich or addicted to exercise, do you know anyone who devotes an hour a day, six or seven days a week to exercise? When you add the hours spent working, commuting, sleeping, running errands and doing household chores, I figure I have less than 39 minutes left on most days.
Does this mean the battle over obesity is lost? Certainly not. Can't we, though, figure out a way to better relate to and motivate the public? Nutrition and exercise are the keys to good health but let's remember one fundamental element: Keep it real.
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