Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman - 
Listen To The Story

Kai Ryssdal: This is kind of a generalization, but most of us try to eat healthy when we can. And those of us who are parents want our kids to do the same.

Commentator Mark Bittman says it'd sure be great if the government played along.

Mark Bittman: Let's play pretend, shall we? Pretend your child's teacher is distributing snacks twice a day, morning and afternoon -- Snickers, Pop-Tarts, Mountain Dew, some fries, maybe a few nachos. Pretend you complain to the principal. The principal says to the teacher, "Could you please stop doing that? You have until, let's say, five years from Tuesday."

Crazy, right? Yet that's pretty much what the Federal Trade Commission did recently with its food marketing guidelines. The agency would like Big Food to market healthier food to kids, and refrain from marketing junk food altogether. But they're asking, not telling. The guidelines won't take effect for five years, and when they do, they're voluntary.

Tell me: What good are voluntary guidelines five years from now? Five years from now, your 5-year-old is 10, and your newborn is 5. Their eating patterns are set. Five more years -- at least -- of America bulking up? Who will pay for all that diabetes?

Requesting voluntary compliance from a blame-the-victim industry that pushes ultra-processed junk is like requesting that a cigarette smoker quit -- in five years.

Junk food is the poster child for what's wrong with American food and, in turn, our diet. Obesity comes from excess calories and causes diabetes, and excess calories come from junk food.

No one in industry is interested in regulation. They may gripe about the voluntary guidelines, but I'll bet there's a collective sigh of relief at what appears to be a brokered deal that gives the industry a five-year, break-in period before... before what? Before nothing. In the meantime, keep feeding the kids those Snickers.

Ryssdal: Mark Bittman is a columnist for the New York Times and the author of the book, "How to Cook Everything." Send us your comments -- click on this contact link.