09 November 2010

U.S government warns about fat but pushes cheese

Earlier this year U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama launched a nationwide campaign called Let's Move! aimed at solving the problem of childhood obesity by promoting lower fat, healthy eating habits and a more active lifestyle. Apparently, amongst other unhealthy eating trends, Americans now consume an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year per person - nearly three times the rate in 1970 - something which is contributing to many obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

The merits of the Let's Move campaign are obvious. The First Lady has been quoted as saying that it is her mission to "change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition" and President Barack Obama himself has signed a Presidential Memorandum creating the first ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity. It may come as somewhat of a surprise therefore, to learn that the U.S. government has also embarked on a conflicting initiative to encourage Americans to eat more cheese.

Yes, really!

It has emerged that Dairy Management, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which receives most of its $140 million annual budget from the dairy industry as mandated by the government, has funded a marketing campaign to introduce more cheese into the American diet. In one measure aimed at achieving this, Dairy Management has teamed up with restaurant chains such as Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell to devise new 'cheesier' menus.

The reason? Well it seems that U.S. dairy farmers produce two thirds more milk than Americans actually drink. And thanks to government health warnings, the milk they do drink tends to be low fat instead of whole, which leaves the dairy industry with an excess of milk fat that they need to get rid of. Ideal for making into cheese.

And so here we have a clear case of double standards, with the U.S.D.A. giving out dietary advice urging lower consumption of saturated fat while it quietly goes about getting us to eat more cheese, a food product which is known to contain the largest source of exactly that.

Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health said: “The U.S.D.A. should not be involved in these programs that are promoting foods that we are consuming too much of already."

It is a view many people agree with.

You can read the full investigative report by the New York Times here. It discloses a number of controversial facts and makes for interesting reading.

Rolanda Ware | @evolvecampaigns
Rolanda is one of the directors of EVOLVE! Campaigns, a UK based campaigning organization which focuses on vegan education. She has a background in food creativity and graphical design and also has experience in vegan catering and fundraising for animals in need. Follow Rolanda at EVOLVE! Campaigns and Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/s4xton