Guest Columns

Industry Issues

Food choices, hunger, obesity and exercise ­— how do these fit together?

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

As the Farm Bill debate continues in Congress, vocal groups are clamoring to limit choice under government-funded feeding programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Some of those efforts are well intentioned, with groups trying to force more healthy eating patterns on the public to limit the growing problem of obesity. Others are self-serving, with some trying to encourage greater purchases of their products by limiting choices.

Then there’s the other side of the debate. Groups in this camp are concerned that limited choices would discriminate against less well-off and less well-fed citizens, and they believe choice should be a fundamental right.

We see the same debate playing out in regulations and actions that would change how we serve our children in public schools by imposing restrictions and limitations that often make little or no sense. For example, research shows that using other foods to replace lost nutrients when flavored milk is removed from schools would add 171 more calories and increase the cost of the meal significantly.

That’s why IDFA has stuck with the premise that there are no “good foods” or “bad foods.” Dairy products offer a terrific suite of nutrients, but they can contain fat, sodium and sugar, and these nutrients frequently fall on the “bad” list for those who like to use such labels. We believe this narrow focus is misguided. Instead of zeroing in on individual nutrients, we need to look at both diet and exercise and aim to achieve a proper balance between our input and output.

Programs that focus solely on micromanaging nutrients just won’t work. Here’s one recent example.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a restriction on super-sized beverages in his city to reduce obesity. It’s good for headlines and political pats on the back but totally ineffective in addressing the underlining issue of balance. I understand that it’s harder to launch and fund widespread exercise programs and nutrition education, but these issues of obesity, hunger and fundamental choice won’t get sorted out until balance is brought to the debate instead of posturing for political points. Arbitrarily picking products to limit, particularly for those who already have so few choices because of financial restrictions, is arrogant at best.

The dairy industry, long guided by sound science and health and nutrition experts, is actively pursuing new opportunities to help Americans achieve a proper balance of good nutrition and exercise. Let’s applaud these efforts and build on them.

Fuel Up to Play 60 is a program founded by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It empowers students to take charge and make small, everyday changes at school. Students can win prizes, like a school visit from an NFL player or even Super Bowl tickets, for choosing good-for-you foods and getting active for at least 60 minutes every day. The goal is for kids to strike a balance between nutrition and exercise, making a difference not only in their own lives, but also in their community.

The Milk Processor Education Program is working with select YMCA summer camps in three major cities to launch the Arranca Con Energia (Start up with Energy) Summer Breakfast Program. These events open with a breakfast of cereal with milk, interactive stations for the children and a special appearance by a notable Hispanic athlete. The athlete hosts a kid-friendly demonstration on his or her sport and encourages the campers to start the day with a healthy breakfast that includes milk so they’ll have enough energy to enjoy all of the club’s activities. Again, the goal is to strike a good balance between proper nutrition and exercise.

So balance is important. But there’s one other thing that these efforts have in common: education. They’re reaching out to kids at an early age to let them know that nutritious food choices will help them in their schoolwork, in their sports activities and in living a healthy life.

It seems to me that instead of trying to regulate or legislate consumer choice, it’s time to educate. The food industry should unite in an effort to better educate consumers that diet and exercise must be looked at in a broader sense, with opportunities to cut back on calories as well as to indulge, but with balance in both our input and output.

We can find fun and exciting ways to educate consumers, young and old, on the life-saving benefits of balancing healthy eating with occasional treats and regular exercise. Aristotle had it right: “Moderation in all things,” to which I would add “including moderation.”


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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