Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief
Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief

We can take heart in a headline on the front page of the Jan. 17 Wall Street Journal: “American Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn.”

Working-age adults were consuming 118 fewer calories per day in 2009-10 than in the four years before, says a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the article.

They said they were eating more home-cooked meals and eating at restaurants less, and they also were reading nutrition labels on food at grocery stores.

The article said other studies confirmed the reported decline in calorie intake.

The article attributed the decline mostly to a greater focus by consumers on nutrition. Some restaurants already list calorie counts on their menus and the Affordable Care Act will require it.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently reported products sold by 15 of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies had cut daily caloric intake per person by 78 calories from 2007-12.

Seeds planted by the goals of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign seem to have sprouted.

A chart inside the newspaper with the jump for the story showed sandwiches staying at the top of a list of foods and beverages consumed at home and away from home from 2003-13.

However, soft drinks ranked second in 2003 and in 2013 fruit took over that spot, jumping from No. 5 in 2003.

Tempering the enthusiasm were some comments from Harry Balzer, an analyst for market research firm NPD Group, who said cash-strapped consumers were eating at home more because of the recession. He said household income remained flat in 2011 and 2012.

Balzer’s NPD Group also showed Americans eating at restaurants 215 times in 2000 and only 193 times in 2013.

I prefer to agree with the WSJ that our society has taken a healthier turn. I prefer to agree knowing there are parties trying to undermine it.

The tussle over school lunches perhaps illustrates the constant vigilance needed to keep on the path of more healthful eating, that is, eating more fruits and vegetables.

For instance, take the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was designed to improve school breakfasts and lunches. It passed in fall 2012.

Before 2012 was over, however, rules limiting the amount of grains and meat in the National School Lunch Program were suspended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the final days of 2013, the loosening of the limits was made permanent in legislation dubbed the Sensible School Lunch Act.

Students were reported as still being hungry after eating school lunches or skipping them because the school lunches were unappetizing.

It seems the beef and grain industries rejected the idea of requiring students to eat more healthfully if that meant eating less meat and grains.

There remain incentives to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables via the school lunch program, at least until someone loosens those dictates.

None of this adds up to a tidy total, but I would like to think it has been a net gain for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. However, it would be easy to lose the momentum and backtrack.

Debit cards = dessert?

If students use a debit card when they’re eating at schools, they are more likely to pile on the desserts and skimp on the vegetables.

That was the gist of a story on NPR in mid-January.

Researchers found that in schools where kids paid cash they heaped on the fruits and vegetables and skipped dessert more often.

The researchers attributed the disparity with the psychological differences in paying with cash or debit card. If using a debit or credit card, the financial consequences of a purchase are delayed, and the researcher suggested the attitude also affected what was eaten.

During the same short segment, the researcher suggested cookies be put behind the lunch line so that students would have to ask cafeteria workers for one.

The short delay in getting one would be more effective in deterring cookie consumption than trying to explain about the threat of coronary heart disease in 40 years if this and other cookies did not go uneaten.

Yeah, but in our area kids often only have 20 minutes to get through the line, and cafeteria workers don’t need extra hassle. Don’t begrudge a kid one cookie.

No seconds, though.

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