Food is essential to human life, along with sleep, water and oxygen. To eat or not to eat isn’t the question — rather, what we eat. Enter the diet. Diets are so common they’ve assimilated completely into U.S. culture — a New Year’s tradition for some and an essential aspect of life for others.
Dieting isn’t exclusively focused on health, and many people eat food in accordance with cultural, religious or ethical factors. Take veganism, a strictly plant-based diet that nearly 3% of Americans ascribe to, born from pro-animal activism and transformed into a thriving mainstream community, which even has its own dating app, Grazer. Additionally, religions such as Islam and Judaism have certain dietary restrictions followed by many.
While some individuals align their food preferences based on their values, others focus on the health factor. A healthy diet is unequivocally linked to preventing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, what is the nature of a “good” diet, and how can we be certain what we consume is actually healthy?
Along with creating unhealthy food patterns for many, the United States’ obsession with becoming skinny and dieting has had even more considerable impacts, namely in the form of “miracle” weight loss pills. Introduced to consumers in 1945, Benzedrine, a powerful amphetamine was marketed as a quick way to lose weight and cure depression. A few years later, over half a million civilians were using amphetamines for weight loss. Heavy dosage resulted in psychosis or death, and the drug was prescribed regularly until banned by the Controlled Substances Act of 1971.
While many of the ridiculous historical fad diets have faded from relevancy, fad diets continue to exist in modern U.S. culture, popularized by unbelievable gains in a short period of time.
Sensa, a dieting plan centered around sprinkling weight loss food flakes over your food, advertised that “If you stick with Sensa, you could lose 30 pounds in six months.” There was no empirical evidence to Sensa, and they were one of many snake-oil companies eager to tap into the enormous weight loss market, which was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019. Americans are eager to slim down, and end up falling victim to companies like Sensa that take money hand over fist with their high fees; Sensa’s six-month plan is $235.
Absurd fad diets in mind, it is essential to remember that food consumption is a scientific field, filled with innovators. One key contributor is Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor and Director of the USC Longevity Institute Valter D. Longo, who offers a scientific based rendition of fasting. Unlike Sensa and other miracle diets, Longo tirelessly searches for science behind his meal plan, testing his diet on mice and finding considerable benefits.
Determining the right diet is a prevalent issue for college students especially. Transitioning to self-sufficiency has its toll on the nutritional intake for students, many struggling to navigate the dining hall or cooking for themselves. A study from New York University states that “many college students engage in poor dietary habits, such as high intake of fast foods and other foods high in fat, low intake of fruits, vegetables and dairy and erratic eating behaviors such as meal skipping.”
Gaining weight at college is so normal, yet it’s become known by the negatively denoted common phrase the “Freshman 15.” Meanwhile numerous students suffer from obsessive dieting; 10-20% of women and 4-10% of men in college have eating disorders.
USC needs to take a more proactive approach towards healthy food intake for their students. To have a healthier campus as a whole, the University should send out regular nutritional articles and offer health food seminars, so that students have the proper resources to create a nutritious diet for themselves.
Dieting is a nuanced issue, and more regulations need to be implemented within the U.S. market as well. In order to protect consumers, the U.S. government requires clear health warnings for a variety of items, from cigarettes to over the counter medicine. Of course a diet is more abstract, but proponents of diets should be required to test and publish all the impacts their subscribers could experience.
Consumers continue to be manipulated by salespeople in the health food industry, and without proper education or warning labels, the U.S. public will continue to fall for dangerous or unhealthy fads.
Each individual has a complex and unique body system, varying in metabolism and allergies. There is no universal diet applicable to everyone, and some diets could be especially dangerous to those with specific conditions. Everyone will continue to tailor their eating habits as new information in the nutrient industry emerges, and oversight is necessary for a healthy future for the U.S. public.