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Michelle Obama leading changes on food labels

Michelle Obama brought together a group of government officials and supporters of the Let’s Move program in the East Wing of the Whitehouse on Feb. 27, 2014. The anniversary celebration of Let’s Move, a physical fitness program to reduce childhood obesity, gave an opportunity for Obama to lay out her ideas for new and more realistic labeling of the contents of processed foods.

Michelle Obama with one of the proposed label changes
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

As reported by Helena Bottemiller Evich for Politico, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were in attendance with Obama. After 10 years of FDA contemplation of a new food label, Obama helped move the new proposals out of the FDA into public view.

The proposed changes in the labeling will allow consumers a more realistic view of how many calories they are eating, with an emphasis on fat and added sugar. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) made a cautiously supportive statement, but it is expected that there will be major pressure among lobbyists to water down the eventual labeling requirements.

Serving sizes on the new labels are being increased to reflect the amount a typical person eats of a can of soup or a bottle of soda. Instead of pretending that a pint of ice cream will be divided into four portions, the new labeling will show two servings for the pint of ice cream. This will double the calories displayed, as well as the fat and saturated fat, and sugar.

Given the hundreds of millions spent so far by the GMA and major food and beverage companies to influence referendums on GMO foods, it would be naïve to assume that Obama’s announced changes are going to sail through the FDA and Congress to become implemented immediately. The estimate on changing the food labels is about $2 billion dollars. According to information found in Wikipedia, the direct and indirect costs from obesity exceeds $115 billion dollars per year.

"Obesity has been cited as a contributing factor to approximately 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year[12] and has increased health care use and expenditures,[13][14][15][16] costing society an estimated $117 billion in direct (preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to weight) and indirect (absenteeism, loss of future earnings due to premature death) costs.[17] This exceeds health-care costs associated with smoking or problem drinking[16] and accounts for 6% to 12% of national health care expenditures in the United States.[18]"

Obesity is rampant in the US, with the most troubling age group among the very young children starting as soon as three to four years of age. The National Institute of Health (NIH) publishes Overweight and Obesity Statistics. The estimates are that 2/3 of the adult population of the US is either overweight or obese, with 1/3 considered obese. About 1/20 adults are morbidly obese, which has their weight as an extremely serious health risk. There are about twice as many women as men that are morbidly obese in adults over 20 years of age. Approximately 1/3 of children between ages 6 to 19 are obese or overweight, with about 1/6 considered to be obese.

Getting more realistic food labeling will help make people aware of the calories, fat and added sugar they are consuming. It will not necessarily change their eating habits to help reduce weight. For those that are dieting, your body needs insulin available to the fat cells to reduce fat in the cells. Carbohydrates, and especially sugar and high fructose corn syrup, utilize insulin on a preferential basis over stored fat. Potato chips should be the poster child for foods to avoid if a person wants to lose weight. They are extremely high in carbohydrates, they have a large surface area that speeds digestion, and they contain high sodium content that leads to drinking sugary drinks that also are extremely high in carbohydrates.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to live a longer life with less risk of heart disease, diabetes, or complications from being overweight or obese? If the answer is yes then we have to actually reduce calories, saturated fat and sugar, regularly exercise and drink alcohol in moderation. If the answer is no, then we can continue to do what we are already doing. You may be able to fool yourself about wanting to be healthy, but your body will let you know the truth if you are not taking this seriously.

It is difficult to get accurate nutritional information. If these new labels are implemented, we can at least read the labels to make better buying and eating decisions.

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