The ability of people to adhere to nutritional advice is frequently undermined by restaurants that serve foods with more calories than consumers need to maintain energy balance and retail outlets that aggressively market low-nutrient foods. Multiple studies have shown that how food is presented, served, and marketed strongly influences what and how much people consume and that most people have a limited capacity to avoid these influences. Yet, there is still a strong misperception that individuals should be able to control what they eat, regardless of what they face in restaurants and food markets. As a consequence, there are no serious efforts to regulate restaurants or food markets in a manner similar to the regulation of other consumer products, where consumers are generally protected from harm. Standards and regulations on portion sizes, bundled meals, and impulse marketing strategies could be created to protect consumers from business practices designed to foster the overconsumption of foods that underlie multiple chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. Dietitians should become involved in the development of standards for the service and marketing of food away from home, which currently creates a substantial burden that most people cannot avoid, ignore, or easily overcome on their own.
Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH, is a senior scientist at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, whose research focuses on the influence of the built and social environment on health and health behaviors.
This work was supported by RAND Corporation.
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence: Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH, RAND Corporation, 1776 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90407 (firstname.lastname@example.org).