FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 12, 2006
Government asks restaurants to help in the fight against obesity
Have students examine restaurant and fast-food advertising in the newspaper over a few days. What's being emphasized in the ads? How would the students change the ads to emphasize healthier choices? How might the ads change under the report's recommendations?
Also have your students find examples of weight-loss stories and advertisements. How does one industry "feed" the other? How many of the ads promise "easy" fixes for a problem that plagues nearly two-thirds of us?
Personal responsibility is always in question when the government decides something is bad for you. Anti-smoking campaigns have been successful in limiting how tobacco products are advertised and where they're consumed. What happens if limitations are imposed on how burgers, fries and pizza can be marketed? What other product advertisements in the newspaper might be seen as putting your health at risk?
The government is trying to enlist the help of the nation's restaurants in fighting fat. A report released last week says 64 percent of Americans are overweight, including the 30 percent who are obese. It suggested that restaurants could help by reducing the size of portions and letting consumers know how many calories they are consuming.
The report, commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration, said Americans now consume fully one-third of their daily intake of calories outside the home and consume an average of 300 calories more a day than they did 15 years ago.
The report laid out ways to help people manage their intake of calories from the growing number of meals prepared away from home. With burgers, fries and pizza the top 3 eating-out favorites in this country, restaurants are in a prime position to help improve people's diets and combat obesity.
What are restaurants being asked to do? The report encourages restaurants to shift the emphasis of their marketing to lower-calorie choices, and include more of those options on menus. In addition, restaurants could alter portion sizes and the variety of foods available to reduce the overall number of calories taken in by diners. And letting consumers know how many calories are contained in a meal also could guide the choices they make, according to the report.
Whose fault is it that we're getting fatter? Consumer advocates have heaped some of the blame on restaurant chains like McDonalds, which already offers salads and fruit options with their meals. And Wendy's International Inc., the country's third-largest burger chain, said Thursday that it would begin frying french fries and breaded chicken items with non-hydrogenated oil, aiming for more healthful choices for customers. Some diners and restaurant officials balked at the notion that consumers want to be saved from themselves, pointing out that it's an individual's responsibility to control their portion sizes. And restaurant officials also point out they can't make people eat what they won't order.
What's the downside? The report notes that the laboratory work needed to calculate the calorie content of a menu item can cost $100, or anywhere from $11,500 to $46,000 to analyze an entire menu. Restaurant officials say that cost makes it unfeasible for most restaurants, especially those where menus can change daily.
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