George Blackburn explains the latest innovations in the science of dieting, and the practical implications this knowledge has on public health.
Blackburn: We really think the behavior scientists are who we're waiting for in this area, that we need new techniques in our thinking. We need new approaches that will pay-- which will value the selection of healthy foods. Leadership in this area is coming from the University of Pennsylvania, Tom Waddens and that group which has expanded now that their colleagues have gone to Temple University. Obviously we're very interested in the children's programs. And of course in Boston we have David Ludwig at the Children's Hospital in his optimal weight control approach. I think it's well-recognized. We certainly salute the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with the Clinton Foundation as far as school lunch is concerned and getting new education to children. We want to draw attention to women who appear taking the lead to stop gaining work, particularly the Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women. They, of course, are the best teachers for the children, so that this is another avenue that we want to address. The American Dietetic Association has 60,000 members who are all knowledgeable in how to take advantage of the science of nutrition to help with these medical problems.
Question: How can the poor eat better?
Blackburn: We worked on a black America lifestyle intervention program that was quite helpful because we just told them what was healthy and then let them take charge of implementing it in their community. So culturally, and ethnic and racial groups have a cultural diet. And we can re-engineer that to get out some of the calories, particularly oils and fat in this area, and slowly implement locally-grown vegetables and produce in this area. So it's remarkable when you're talking about getting just two to 400 calories out of the diet per day, how you can engineer out in these culturally-specific recipes unnecessary fats and sugar in this area. So it is a simple solution that has to be adopted locally.
Question: Where is the best information on dieting?
Blackburn: I would think that now almost every community has access to nutrition educators who can go over food choices. I've emphasized before, of course you want to build it into the My Pyramid, which has as its base vegetables and whole grains followed by fruits and low fat dairy and small portions of meat, poultry and fish in the area. But this really all starts with what you've selected, what's in your grocery basket today, and then to construct that into recipes, because people eat meals. So that's what you need to have built correctly. And so you get one a day of a healthy meal, and then be guided from that to what the other meals and the breakfast is going to look like. But we do have to keep it simple. We have to understand that we're just talking about selecting food that we eat slowly. We take each bite and chew it until it's a liquid. We get rid of our hunger. We get pride in how happy you are that it is healthy food. And we know it's healthy food because it doesn't have added fat and sugar in it.
Question: What should we know more about?
Blackburn: I think people don't know what a calorie is. I think people don't know what a healthy food is. I think they don't know how their set point is regulated particularly as far as hunger is concerned. So that the surgeon general, Richard Carmona emphasized that, that we have to get a health literacy so oriented here so people understand these simple realities so that they can eat less because they know how many calories they should be eating, how many in an individual meal there is, and then they need to know where does my hunger come from and how do I get, you know, rid of it in this area. And then they need to have a simple mark, a simple identify on foods that says this is a healthy food.
Question: What is a calorie?
Blackburn: Right. So a calorie, of course, is an expression of the energy that's contained in a food, or the energy that's expended when you stand up. For example, as we're sitting down, if we stand up that would be a 50 percent increase in the calories we were burning from a little over one calorie to one-and-a-half. You know, if we stand up it's another 25 percent. So that I think the way for people to know about calories is to buy a frozen dinner, see how many calories it is and then look at what's in that package knowing that I want to learn on a package that it's 450 calories. Now most diet or lean cuisine-type frozen dinner only have 250 calories, so you need two of those. Because if you eat over 20 minutes, 450 calories in this area, you can learn yourself, "I was hungry when I started, and now the hunger is gone." So that's the best way. And then of course the other one is that I know that my body burns 15 calories per pound per day. And so if I'm 150 pounds, that's 225 calories. You know, if it's 170, then of course it's 85 on top of the 170. And so it's easy to know with 15 calories per pound how many calories I'm burning. Then you get on the scale and if it stays the same, I say, "Wow. I consumed 225 calories, I'm 150 pounds in this area, and my weight's the same. If you lose weight, then you know that you're consuming less calories than this 15 calories per pound.
Question: Are Americans schizophrenic when it comes to their weight?
Blackburn: Well, it's the old adage of talking the talk versus walking the walk, that, you know, there's so many things that we want, but we're not willing to put in the effort to do them. And I think this is a perfect time to be talking about this subject, because it does appear, you know, that we're going to have to use less gasoline, and less oil, and waste less fuel for our car. And we waste a lot of food, and we eat too much food. So this is a good time to take action. And I think people are ready. We already have the statistics that the 21st century is associated with stopping weight gain. That's the first step to go from eating equal, to what you need, to under-eating versus what we were doing the last 20 years of the 20th century, and we were overeating.