How Government Can Make It Easier for Americans to Lead Healthier Lives

Something has to give. We have a serious health crisis in America and it's impacting a whole lot more people than the Ebola virus.
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Something has to give. We have a serious health crisis in America and it's impacting a whole lot more people than the Ebola virus. Over the past 30 years childhood obesity rates have tripled; 1 in 3 adults are overweight or obese; and over 29 million people have diabetes. All of these things have helped cause our healthcare spending as a nation to go through the roof, with no end in sight. Studies have shown that one of the largest contributors to this debacle is the enormous quantities of sugar we each consume every day as a nation.

Some of that consumption is in obvious forms like soda, donuts and cookies. But a lot of it is "hidden" in 80% of the more than 600,000 items sold in the average supermarket. We use the term hidden because there are several ways food manufacturers thwart the consumer's ability to understand exactly how much sugar is in the product they are buying. One is by using over 56 different names for the ingredient (like dextrose, agave nectar, beet sugar, fructose, glucose, and honey). Unfortunately, as Shakespeare wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and the same goes for sugar.

Another tactic used by food and beverage manufacturers is the use of the gram as the nutrition label measurement instead of the more easily understood teaspoon. Let's be honest, most everyone can conceptualize what a teaspoon is. They are used every day in kitchens everywhere. But the gram is more elusive (Full disclosure: even this co-author who has published cookbooks doesn't understand the gram measurement.) It's time to make it easier, not harder, for Americans to lead healthier lives. That is why the second author on this post, Congressman Tim Ryan, is calling on the FDA to change sugar measurements from grams to the more commonly understood teaspoons.

The World Health Organization has said that the average person should consume no more than 25 grams of sugar or translated a little over 6 teaspoons. That means one 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola, which contains approximately 9 teaspoons (39 grams) of sugar, is 3 teaspoons (14 grams) of sugar more than the suggested daily allowance... AND that is just for one "small" can of soda!

We believe that one of the primary keys to healthier eating is education and understanding what is in our food. What simpler way to start than on the nutrition label. This will help everyone make better and healthier decisions about what they buy in the store and what they serve at their tables. Wow, that breakfast yogurt has 8 teaspoons of sugar! My kid's cereal 12 teaspoons! This nutrition bar has 5 ½ teaspoons! So, let's scramble up some eggs instead.


Laurie David is the author of The Family Cooks and the executive producer of Fed Up.

Congressman Tim Ryan represents the 13th district of Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives. He's also the author of The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm.

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