What’s the beef?

Government is sending mixed messages about healthy eating

“Got milk?” Are you chowing down on “pork, the other white meat”? These government-sanctioned advertising campaigns aimed at getting Americans to eat more dairy and pork conflict with what the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans say we should be putting on the table, according to a Tufts food economist.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that we eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and low-fat dairy products and cut our calories. However, “federal support for promoting fruits and vegetables is small compared to federal support for pork and dairy,” Parke Wilde, an assistant professor at the Friedman School, wrote in an opinion piece for the journal Obesity.

The commodity advertising campaigns, known as checkoff programs, “are established by Congress, approved by a majority of the commodity’s producers, managed jointly by a producer board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and funded through a tax on the producers,” Wilde wrote. “The largest food commodity checkoff programs are for meat and dairy products.” Some checkoff programs have even promoted calorie-chocked foods, including bacon cheeseburgers, barbecued pork ribs and butter, Wilde noted.

“The most striking feature of the revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2005, is the publication’s increased emphasis on obesity prevention,” Wilde wrote. “One must ask whether it is possible to eat more beef, more pork, more cheese and more eggs, in answer to checkoff advertising, while simultaneously consuming more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, in answer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and still reduce caloric intake to reach or maintain a healthy body weight,” Wilde wrote.

“The current inconsistencies between the government’s message in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and in the checkoff promotions deserve renewed attention,” he said.