ANTHONY: The Food Pyramid Scheme

Photo not from story (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

James Anthony Contributor
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In 1863, the first cold cereal was invented, Granula. In 1877, John Kellogg, invented his version, which he ended up calling Granola. Kellogg, a doctor, was keenly interested in improving digestive health. 

In 1894, the USDA published Wilbur Atwater’s bulletin Foods: Nutritive Value and Cost. Atwater had pioneered the measurement of foods’ calorie content, and this bulletin listed the protein, fat, and carbohydrate calorie contents of various foods. Its penultimate analysis compared the calories in 25 cents’ worth of various foods. Note that since commodity prices closely approach production costs, optimizing economy also optimizes resource use and sustainability. 

In 1895, Charles Post, a past patient at John Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitorium, invented Postum. In 1897, Post invented Grape Nuts; in 1904, Post Toasties. 

Meanwhile in 1898, John Kellogg accidentally left a batch of wheat dough out for an extended period of time, making it ferment, and so when rolled into thin sheets it produced large, thin wheat flakes. He or his brother William Kellogg used a similar process to invent corn flakes. In 1906, William Kellogg founded Kellogg Company. In 1909, the Kellogg Company sold its millionth case of corn flakes

Carbs became early convenience foods. Government studies conferred on these foods an unmatched stamp of approval of healthiness. The innovators wound up with not only early-mover advantages but also taxpayer-paid, high-credibility marketing. 

These businessmen and government officials faced no added risk, and each benefited from collaborating as cronies. All these people’s labor costs and investment returns for collaborating were paid in full by other people’s purchases and taxes. 

Given this payoff from politics, plenty of other actors also got in on this action. For example, in 1977 the US Senate Select Committee on Health published Dietary Goals for the United States. Between the first edition published in January and the second edition published in December, “decrease consumption of meat and increase consumption of poultry and fish” became “decrease consumption of animal fat, and choose meats, poultry and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.” Meat producers had gotten “decrease consumption of meats” changed to “choose meats.” 

People paid close attention to the goal of reducing heart disease, some cancers, strokes, and diabetes. But government officials dropped the ball on saturated fats. Instead, they converged on a simpler recommendation to reduce fat

The alternative that government people pushed the most was carbs. In the 1992-2005 USDA Food Guide Pyramid, bread, cereal, rice, and pasta took up an area fraction of 44% and a volume fraction of 58%. Fruits and vegetables swelled the total carbs area fraction to 75% and the total carbs volume fraction to 88%. 

This bad government advice, like government organizations, seems nearly eternal: “{D}espite removing the ‘low-fat’ language from the 2015 and 2020 [Dietary Guidelines for Americans], the current advice to consume between 20% and 35% of calories as fat is almost exactly the traditional low-fat diet.”

Government people are undisciplined by customers and do whatever they think is best. In nutrition, from the start they focused on not just individual health but also economy. This work also provided marketing for ready-to-eat cereals’ crony producers. By 1970, government people focused on not just individual health but also a rebranded version of economy, the supposedly-new paradigm of environmental sustainability

Producers and government people hoped to improve digestive health, and, later, cardiovascular health. Instead, their products worsened diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, respiratory disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, digestive diseases, and more.

If producers must satisfy customers, they develop and produce what customers understand to be best. Dr. John Kellogg’s driving motivation was to improve digestive health, but customers also required convenience and taste. Leaving customers free to choose works best

People first chose to follow the government dietary guidelines. From 1965 to 2011, the calorie fraction of fats in US diets decreased from 45% to 34%, and the calorie fraction of carbs in US diets increased from 39% to 51%

Concurrently, obesity increased. By 2010, the fraction of US adults of age 20 years & up who had a Body Mass Index ≥35 reached 15.5%. These high BMIs are projected to cost these adults 9 to 13 years of life

This is now leading people to make positive changes, against government advice. From 1999 to 2016, the calorie fraction of carbs in US youths’ diets fell from 55% to 52%

Most people intuitively get that government people don’t work for them but work for cronies and ultimately for themselves. It turns out, being wary of governments is essential to health.

James Anthony is an experienced chemical engineer who applies process design, dynamics, and control to government processes. He is the author of The Constitution Needs a Good Party and rConstitution Papers, the publisher of rConstitution.us, and an author in Daily Caller, The Federalist, American Thinker, American Greatness, Mises Institute, and Foundation for Economic Education. For more information, see his media and about pages.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.