On the Table

Hooray for a decade of progress

March 5, 2013 

LIFE HEALTH-NTR-MILK-OPTIONS 8 FT

National Organic Standards were established, creating a national definition for the term "organic" and criteria for food labels, too.

ROSS HAILEY — MCT

We recently passed a milestone with this column: the 10-year mark. And, even 500 columns later, there’s still plenty to say.

I know because you’ve sent me several thousands of email messages. Your comments and questions help me understand how far we’ve come and how far there is yet to go.

The original aim of the column remains as relevant as ever – to raise awareness of diet and health politics and policy and put into perspective the nutrition news you hear every day.

In other words: What should I eat for dinner tonight? What can I do to make it easier to eat well?

When this column launched in 2003, very few people were regularly writing about diet and health policy. In fact, that was the genesis of the column’s name: I thought it was important that these issues be … on the table.

Since then, food politics and policy have become part of the mainstream discourse. There are websites, blogs, books, conferences and college classes devoted to the topic.

Looking back 10 years, have we made progress? Yes. A few standout examples:

• The National School Lunch Program now has to comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations our government issues every five years that aim to help you understand what to eat to be healthy.

• Food labels have to include the amount of trans fat in packaged foods. It’s not surprising that this change led to the near extinction of trans fats in processed foods.

• National Organic Standards were established, creating a national definition for the term “organic” and criteria for food labels, too.

On top of that, our food supply has become more diverse. Ten years ago, you couldn’t find almond milk or gluten-free crackers in your neighborhood supermarket.

It was a lot harder to order a vegetarian meal in a restaurant or to find an Asian or Indian market near your home.

And yet, our food environment still presents obstacles to eating healthfully – easy access to junky foods, food advertising that promotes poor choices, interest groups that block advancement of health-supporting food policies.

Have we got more to do? Certainly.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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