FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 05, 2007
Nutrition proposals reopen 'diet police' debate
Nutrition and other health topics are part of lifestyle and news coverage in newspapers. Ask students to look for a report with tips of interest to them or a family member.
Good eating is part of overall fitness, a subject that often earns a weekly section or page -- perhaps as part of recreational sports coverage. Initiate a discussion about whether newspapers provide trusted information about diet, exercise and staying healthy. How does their reliability compare with TV medical dramas or online chat forums?
If your paper runs recipes weekly or occasionally, assign students to see if they include general or specific nutrition information. If not, and if healthful meals don't seem to be encouraged, suggest that class members send constructive comments to the feature section editor in electronic messages or mailed letters.
California legislators plan hearings this month on two bills that would show restaurant patrons whether menu items are belt-busting risks to their shapes and potentially to their health. Proposals to require nutrition details similar to those on supermarket labels reflect a movement that extends to other states and that has some supporters in Congress. This regulatory effort also provokes complaints about "diet police" trying to warn people against enjoying themselves.
Advocates want menus to show calories, fat grams, carbohydrate grams and sodium milligrams so diners know what's in hearty combos such as bacon cheeseburger pizzas, lasagna with meatballs and over-stuffed quesadillas. Information is especially vital for millions of Americans who watch what they eat to manage medical conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. "I just want to make sure that consumers have the information they need to make correct decisions," says a Democratic senator who introduced a bill covering California chains with at least 10 locations.
The national Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group behind the push, recently issued a report targeting mega-items on three chains' menus. It cites Ruby Tuesday's Colossal Burger, with 1,940 calories and 141 grams of fat; Cheesecake Factory's Outrageous Chocolate Cake, a combination of brownie, pie and cheesecake that packs 1,380 calories; and a Pizza Skins appetizer from Uno Chicago Grill that's intended to be shared and packs 2,060 calories, 48 grams of saturated fat and 3,140 milligrams of sodium.
Backer of change says: "Chains make almost zero nutrition information available on menus. Their customers don't have a clue that they might be getting a whole day's worth of calories in a single dish, or several days' worth in the whole meal." -- Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
Restaurants say: Patrons don't need detailed menus or "diet police" to tell hearty, rich fare from lighter, leaner choices. Most establishments offer salads, low-cholesterol meals, vegetarian selections and other variety to suit diverse diet preferences.
Where we eat: Away-from-home foods typically provide one-third of Americans' calories, twice as many calories as in the 1980s.
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