Can We Talk? (4 Items on the Agenda)

Can we talk about issues in obesity and nutrition that people see very differently? It seems way too hard, way too often. Here are four examples of subjects where it seems that people are inclined to listen only to people who share their views.

  1. Dietary Guidelines. When the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued their report last week, people quickly lined up to praise or find fault with the report. Folks who like the report don’t understand why there’s any controversy. Other folks find a “maddening” tendency to ignore solid evidence in favor of a prevailing bias. The truth is that this is hard work. In a 571-page report, some points are bound to stimulate disagreement.
  2. Prevention Strategies. Strong opinions abound on the best strategies for preventing obesity and we’ve been working on it for a couple of decades now. The problem is that the trend lines don’t bow to our will. Some strategies for preventing obesity — like promoting breastfeeding, addressing food deserts, and taxing sugary drinks — are seen by some smart people as being essential for bending the curve. Other smart people see no evidence they will have an effect. Give and take consideration of differing views is all too rare.
  3. Sugar. To some, sugar is a toxic culprit in the obesity epidemic. To others, the case for sugar being the leading cause of excess obesity has been overstated. A sure way get people agitated is to simply question their views about the role of sugar in the obesity epidemic. You may find yourself caricatured as a shill or a dilettante.
  4. Saturated Fat. Fat has been scorned for decades as a bad actor in the American diet, but now it’s slowly coming out of hiding. Saturated fat remains an area of controversy. Some experts, including the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, still recommend limits. Others say there’s no justification for such recommendations. Work it out, folks.

Talking points sound great when we’re talking to ourselves. They even sound good if we’re talking to someone who agrees with us. But in a genuine give and take conversation with someone from a different perspective, every one of us might learn something.

Click here for more on the new recommendations for dietary guidelines, here for more about prevention guidelines, here for more on sugar controversies, and here and here for more on saturated fats.

Talking, photograph © Erich Ferdinand / flickr

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