Forum: Congress could aid health with better nutrition data

Lobbyists in Congress are influencing how we eat. We need better information to make good choices.

By Zoe Young / Herald Forum

Proper nutrition is the building block to all of our body’s mechanisms and it is one of the things that can set us up for a healthy life, so why is it so often glossed over?

Though other issues that face our society may seem more pressing, this problem is one that truly should not be overlooked as it connects to so many others that we face as a country. This issue needs to be taken far more seriously by the government and U.S. citizens alike.

It is the job of Congress to promote healthy food and highlight research that can guide U.S. citizens to a proper quality of life; it is also the responsibility of Congress to encourage the sale of agricultural products. How can Congress effectively complete both of these competing jobs at the same time?

The truth is that it can’t. In matters of this conflict of interest, it appears that lobbyists are always winning out over the interests of the people because they have closer ties to and more money to give to Congress. When lobbyists win out over the people though, it means that proper nutrition can be thrown out the window.

That is why under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, sugar-sweetened beverages are still on the approved item list despite all of the research that has proven their detrimental effects on health. It is up to Congress to remove foods that increase health risks from the SNAP list, but because of their relationship with food and beverage lobbyists, it is unlikely that they will. The influence that lobbying groups have on Congress when making decisions about public health, in my opinion, is too strong, and more regulation should be put on lobbying influence so that the government prioritizes the health of the people over the desires of corporations.

I concede, though, that this is a two-sided issue. Congress must prioritize the health and nutrition of the people, but that is also the responsibility of the people themselves.

One thing that keeps Congress from putting more regulations on food to promote proper nutrition is the desire for consumer choice. Many consumers do not want the government to be involved in decision-making about what foods they buy, because of this, Congress can only spread information to try to get people to prioritize proper nutrition for themselves.

There have been attempts by the government to empower individuals to make informed decisions about what foods they are buying, including front-of-pack nutrition labeling and creating symbols for food producers to put on their packaging that indicates that a food product is within healthy standards. However, much of the information that the government publishes about nutrition is through research papers that are generally inaccessible to those who do not have high nutrition literacy.

The way that the government distributes nutrition information is inequitable because those with lower nutrition literacy are unable to get proper information from what the government publishes. I believe that it should be a priority for the government to distribute information more equitably. But it is also the job of the people to go looking for that information and to prioritize buying foods that are in line with that information as the government still has to consider the issue of consumer choice.

I hope that this will spark the interest of readers but also someone in the government because this issue should be equally important to both groups. I hope that in the future the government can see how important nutrition is the quality of life and adjust how they address it by prioritizing the health of the people over the influence of corporate lobbyists.

At the same time, I think that it should be a major priority for all people to try to achieve proper nutrition in their own lives as it is so important to one’s health now and the prevention of long-term health complications. I will continue to advocate for the importance of proper nutrition and everyone’s lives and I hope that you may aid me in my efforts.

Zoe Young is a student at North Creek High School and lives in Bothell.

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