Advertisement
Bethyl Laboratories
Bethyl Laboratories

Who teaches us what to eat?

Everyone?s had the frustration of reading something is good for you one day, then bad for you the next. The same mixed message is now being circulated about fish. On Friday, I participated in a panel discussion in Washington DC hosted by the National Consumer?s League about how to resolve this situation. We, the panelists, were asked to explore the responsibilities of journalists, researchers, and policymakers in disseminating the complex message that fish is very good for you, but some people ?

By | October 20, 2005

Everyone?s had the frustration of reading something is good for you one day, then bad for you the next. The same mixed message is now being circulated about fish. On Friday, I participated in a panel discussion in Washington DC hosted by the National Consumer?s League about how to resolve this situation. We, the panelists, were asked to explore the responsibilities of journalists, researchers, and policymakers in disseminating the complex message that fish is very good for you, but some people ? namely, children and women of childbearing age -- should limit what they eat because of pollutants that can harm developing brains, such as mercury. Although the government has released guidelines on how often to eat certain types of fish, a small survey from the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy (CFNAP) showed people are very confused about what fish is safe to eat, and for whom. As the sole media representative, I used my allotted 10 minutes to essentially pass the buck ? I wrote an article (as a freelancer for another publication) about the government?s fish eating guidelines, and I am not at all surprised that it didn?t teach people what to eat. Of all people, I should be one of the few to remember the guidelines, since I wrote about them. And yet I don?t. Instead, when I buy fish, I have to open my wallet to the pocket-sized copy of the guidelines I received at a press conference. This is because the guidelines are so complicated, they?re almost useless. An example: albacore canned tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So people who need to limit fish can eat 6 ounces of albacore canned tuna each week, but 12 ounces of the canned light variety. Some fish ?swordfish, king mackerel and others -- should be avoided altogether, while other types ? pollock and catfish, among others -- are safe up to 12 ounces a week. The rules may read fine now, but picture reading them along with the hundreds of other facts we encounter every day, then remembering every detail in the weeks and months to come when you are buying fish. So researchers can develop guidelines, and journalists can write about them, until they're blue in the face. I promise you, people won't remember them. Because some information has little impact when it?s presented far from the moments we actually need it. For that reason, I agreed wholeheartedly with my fellow panelist, Caroline Smith DeWaal from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who suggested that the government place the guidelines about what fish to eat, and when, where fish is actually sold ? on menus, in fish markets, on the labels of fish products sold in supermarkets. I?ve spoken to experts who have suggested the same thing. Indeed, according to Smith DeWaal, in California, all supermarkets now post the guidelines. I think other states should follow California?s lead.
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
BioCision
BioCision
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist
Life Technologies