Half-baked advice

April 22, 2005

THE U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its well-known but little-followed food pyramid; now people can disregard 12 different versions of it. Meanwhile, a new study of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that though 112,000 more obese people die each year compared with "normal weight" people, 86,000 fewer "overweight" people do. The first number is a great relief from the Chicken Little scare of 2004, when the CDC estimated 400,000 deaths could be attributed to extreme overweight, but it's the second number that gives pause.

If carrying a little bit more weight than recommended means you are less likely to die, why not recommend that weight to start with? If 80 percent of Americans recognized the old food pyramid but scarcely any followed it, will revising it into a rainbow waterfall and adding a stick figure who has no belly at all entice them to toe the line? Do people need more advice than: Watch what you eat and go out to play?

Some parts of modern-day living are complicated, and it can be tempting to assume that deciding what to eat or whether to take a walk also has grown more difficult. Certainly the array of research and often-biased advice on health can be bewildering. But it's wise to take all such advice -- governmental included -- with a grain of salt.

Just don't eat the salt.

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