New York City has banned large soda drinks, San Francisco sought to outlaw toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals to reduce their appeal, and many communities have barred trans fats in fast foods. But do such government policies actually promote better diets and health?
Jayson Lusk, author of the new book “The Food Police,” argues such policies do nothing to improve public health or dietary habits and may actually have the opposite effect. In an interview with Newsmax Health, Lusk says much of what self-proclaimed food experts advocate is wrong-headed and confuses consumers and public policy issues, making it harder for many people to make sensible choices about diet and nutrition.
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A prime example: The recent New York City ban on large soda sizes.
“There’s really no scientific evidence that this policy, banning large soda sizes, is actually going to work,” says Lusk, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University. “In fact it might have some unintended consequences. There was a study that published just last week showing that in fact one of the ways that companies, food retailers, could get around this is by offering two-for-one specials and, in fact, that study showed that people might even consume more soda than they did before.”
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“I’m not saying that we necessarily don’t want to think about how to improve healthfulness of people’s diets,” he says. “What I’m asking is that people look at the economic research on whether the policies will actually have the kind of benefits that you hope for.”
Lusk’s book contends the “emerging elite” of nutrition experts — whom he collectively dubs the “food police” — have it all wrong, on many dietary issues. For instance, Lusk argues:
- Organic food is “not necessarily healthier or tastier” (but is more expensive. “There actually are several very large review studies that have gone through all the scientific literature; the most recent one was done by some professors at Stanford,” he tells Newsmax. “And basically these are scientific studies where they take a conventional produce or food and compare it a similar organic food and they test the nutrient content and … what they tend to show is that there is really no significant difference in the nutrient content of organic versus non-organic food.
- Genetically modified foods haven't sickened a single person but they have made farmers more profitable and they do hold the promise of feeding many hungry populations.
- Farm policies “aren't making us fat” and “voguish” favoritism of local farm products over nationally produced fruits and vegetables is not a healthier choice for consumers, nor is it more eco-friendly or better for the economy.
- “Fat taxes” — on foods linked to obesity — won't slim our waists and “fixing” school lunch programs won't make our kids any smarter.
“It’s tough to know why they have it wrong,” Lusk says. “But one of the things I’m advocating in this book is for people to sort of return to science-based, evidence-based thinking when it comes to some of these food issues, and not just advocate for policies that feel good, but rather also look at the economic research on whether the policies are actually going to do the kind of good that people hope they will.”
Lusk, who grew up in a farming town, contends there are many myths about the U.S. food supply and he argues the American agricultural industry has made significant gains in the past half-century in providing abundant, healthy foods.
“One of the main reasons I wrote this book is that I felt … there’s a misconception about food and agriculture in this country and one of the things I’m trying to do is this book is remind people of all the good that has happened in food and agriculture over the past 30, 40, 50 years,” he says. “We produce more abundant food, safer food, healthier food, food that’s more affordable, and in many ways [more] nutritious and more diverse than really at ever before at any time in our nation’s history.”
So what can consumers do to be sure they’re making good food choices?
“There are many wonderful trained nutritionists, there are many books on the market and I think there is a role for people educating themselves and it is our responsibility to make sure that we know what we’re eating and that we ensure the healthfulness of our diet,” Lusk says.
“I’ve got two young children at home and I care passionately about their health and I view it as my responsibility to make sure that they eat well. So what I’m advocating in this book … is that people reconsider policies that are not going to be effective.”
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