Federal communication about obesity in the dietary guidelines and checkoff programs.
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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Jun;14(6):967-73. Related Articles, Links
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on obesity prevention. They recommend increased consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, and low-fat dairy products, within a balanced diet whose total calories have been moderately reduced. Meanwhile, other well-known and well-funded federally sponsored consumer communications promote increased total consumption of beef, pork, and dairy products, including energy dense foods such as bacon cheeseburgers, barbecue pork ribs, pizza, and butter. These latter communications are sponsored by the federal government’s commodity promotion programs, known as « checkoff » programs. The 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. The federal government enforces the collection of more than 600 million US dollars annually in mandatory assessments, approves the advertising and marketing programs, and defends checkoff communication in court as the federal government’s own message-in legal jargon, as its own « government speech. » Federal support for promoting fruits and vegetables is small by comparison. The checkoff programs recently have become more clearly identified as federal programs. After a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the checkoff programs, calls for consistency with the Dietary Guidelines may get louder. The current inconsistencies in federal communication undermine the effectiveness of the Dietary Guidelines as an antidote to the shortcomings of the private sector market for information about weight and obesity.