Eat This, Don't Eat That: Who Controls What We Consume?

ByABC News
June 14, 2006, 5:26 PM

June 14, 2006 — -- The news that KFC is being sued for the fat levels in its fried chicken raises an important question: Should legal and government entities try to limit what Americans eat?

A nonscientific ballot on suggests most Americans have a free-will mind-set. Asked if KFC should offer more healthy options by changing its menu items, 2,652 readers voted that KFC should be left alone while 951 voted that the menu needs to be changed. The results are current as of 3 p.m. Wednesday. Vote in our new poll here: Trans-Fats Regulations?

Yet trans fat -- found in high quantities in KFC's chicken -- is linked to a lot of dangerous health problems, argues the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which sued the fast-food chain. People need to know this, the center says.

But many people disagree, saying legal procedures do little to truly educate the public, not to mention that singling out fat content does little to help people understand what makes food healthy or unhealthy.

"I don't think you can legislate these kinds of things, because this is an issue of choice," said Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "You need to label foods' content so people can limit their quantity of it. Labeling food as 'bad' is not as important as paying attention to portion control."

She and others support educating the public about healthy food choices, such as using food-warning labels.

"The consumer has a right to know what is in the food they choose to buy," said Conrad Earnest, director of the Center for Human Performance and Nutrition Research at the Cooper Institute. "That said, [I am] strongly in favor of having KFC products and others like it labeled accordingly."

Earnest suggests labeling fast-food items that contain trans fatty acids with a certain symbol next to it on the menu. He stated that ultimately such labeling would fall within the hands of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

While this may help educate consumers, singling out trans fats could gloss over other important health issues when it comes to eating.