Big Brother Is Watching You Eat

The federal government wants to use your technology to change what you eat. In the meantime, they're surreptitiously posting your data online.


Foter / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

Just how far is the federal government willing to go to push Americans to make subjectively "healthy" food choices? Chillingly far, if the most recent meeting of the federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is any indicator.

The DGAC is made up of fifteen academics, culled mainly from the fields of nutrition, public health, and medicine. The role of the DGAC, which has met every five years for more than two decades, is to come up with recommendations that can be used "to help people choose an overall healthy diet that works for them."

The DGAC plans to issue its latest set of recommendations by the end of 2015. These recommendations have teeth, as they'll "serve as the cornerstone for all Federal nutrition education and program activities" over the proceeding five years.

The DGAC guidelines are used by a host of federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Health (NIH), and Center for Disease Control. Many of these policies will have little or no impact on your life.

But make no mistake. The DGAC is actively dreaming up ways for the government to meddle in your diet.

A look through the transcript of last week's hearing reveals the word "policy" (or "policies") appears 42 times. The word "tax" appears three times. And the word "regulation" appears 13 times. The words "meat," "salt," "soda," "sugar," and "trans fats" came up countless times in the context of things you really should be eating less frequently.

One of the most nefarious things I've seen about the DGAC recommendations so far is the suggestion that the government involve itself in the lives of obese people by sending them regular text messages. (I've dubbed this this the DGAC's "Chubby Checkers" program.)

This texting—and the data collection necessary to facilitate it—could be an unprecedented intrusion of government into the daily lives of Americans. It flies in the face of food freedom.

The Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington reported last week that NIH had spent nearly $3,000,000 in recent years to fund studies looking into the possibility of using text messages and web tools to treat obesity.

That sort of Big Government intrusion into your mobile phone might strike you as outrageous. But that's not even the half of it.

In the course of researching this column, I came across evidence that NIH—the federal agency that's part of Health and Human Services (HHS) and that posted the DGAC video online—is actively sharing information about the Internet service providers (ISPs) of its web visitors. That may violate the federal government's own privacy policies.

For example, the video of last Friday's DGAC hearing has a link to "extended stats" on the event. Clicking on that link brings a visitor to a page that lists the names of all the ISPs used by those who took part in the meeting.

The publicly available list of those who watched online includes news organizations like Fox News and Congressional Quarterly; food and beverage giants like Dannon, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, General Mills, Hershey, Dean Foods, ConAgra, Kellogg, Archer Daniels Midland, and Kraft Foods; and nonprofits like the Food Marketing Institute, PCRM, and about two-dozen colleges and universities.

The site also lists the number of computers at each location used to watch the proceedings. That's how I know, for example, that one computer at CQ and three at Fox News were used to watch the proceedings live online—as was one computer at the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to the NIH website data, faculty or staff at Yale, Texas A&M, Utah, Istanbul Tech., Tufts, Delaware, Cornell, Georgia, Cal Tech, Tennessee State, Texas Tech, USC, and at least a dozen other universities around the world also watched the proceedings online.

It appears HHS has been posting similar data for years. It also appears that posting this information online violates the federal government's own privacy policies.

The privacy policy posted at HHS's own website, for example, states that any information collected, including a visitor's ISP and the page or pages to which a visitor navigates, "is available only to web managers and other designated staff who require this information to perform their duties."

If the federal government was collecting and publicizing information about what library books Americans were checking out, there'd be one righteous ACLU lawsuit in the offing.

This sort of blanket disclosure is particularly chilling because it pertains to a public committee hearing—I mean "chilling" both in the creepy sense of the word and for its impact on public participation and speech—especially when viewed both in light of many recent NSA spying disclosures and of the DGAC's own proposal to use intrusive technology to involve the government more in the lives of Americans.

That government ineptitude—rather than covert machinations—might one day explain HHS's actions here is cold comfort. At a bare minimum, the agency has some explaining to do.

New York University Prof. Marion Nestle, a former DGAC committee member, wrote recently that the present DGAC proceedings "will be fun to watch."

That may be a stretch. But she can be sure those putting on the proceedings will probably enjoy watching her, too.

NEXT: Matthew Feeney Discusses Rand Paul on MSNBC Tomorrow at 9am ET

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  1. I presume the DGAC is going to propose fattening everybody up through carb-loading again?

    1. The lizard people like us that way.

    2. They should package these new guidelines in a book called “To Serve Man”.

  2. Never really thought about it liek that before. Makes sense.

  3. If the federal government was collecting and publicizing information about what library books Americans were checking out, they’d have wasted millions of dollars to produce an empty report

    and wtf, 3mil “to fund studies looking into the possibility of using text messages and web tools to treat obesity” and they come up with nag-texts. Well spent.

  4. Why not nag women that they’re having too many abortions. No, that would shame and guilt them for exercising their legal rights.

    Sorry, but it seems an obvious point.

    1. Well, it is the saturday food thread, where abortion always seems to be on the menu.

  5. I have a sudden urge to order a large meatlovers pizza and a 2L of Mt. Dew and finish it all in one sitting. I’ll film the event and send it to the DGAC, the first lady, and Michael Bloomberg. Fuck these people. That is all.

    1. I have a sudden urge to order a large meatlovers pizza and a 2L of Mt. Dew and finish it all in one sitting.

      Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?

      1. +1 cleaning lady

  6. Yesterday, the District Attorney of Santa Barnara County (CA) charged the porn professor who attacked prolife demonstrators in a campus free-speech zone and too their sign. There are three misdemeanor charges: theft from a person, battery and vandalism.

    1. (The link is to the DA’s official Web site)

      1. That’s War On Women? (by another woman), I tell ya.

        1. Miller-Young’s central thesis seems to be that black women are “undesirable” and make up for it by being easy. What that suggests to me is that she is a racist with low self esteem.

  7. Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
    — Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

    I’ll tell you what you eat so I can tell you who you are.
    — Michelle Obama

  8. What better way to help people with eating problems than to attack their self esteem.

    1. C’mon Will. Worrying about self-esteem and body image is SO last decade…

      1. Tell somebody they need to lose weight you’re a fat shamer. Tell them they don’t need to lose weight you’re an obesity enabler. The only way to win is not to play.

  9. When 15 000 academics get together nothing good can come from it.

    1. Unless they all arrived via Malaysian Airlines.

      Too soon?

    2. if you can’t trust people who won’t pay a price for being wrong because of iron clad tenure, make 80 k for working 8 hours a week, with summers off and sabbaticals paid for by the taxpayer who can you trust?

      And these assholes rip on businessmen who generate the wealth to fund their potemkin existence only to be looked down upon because of their “false consciousness” or someshit-honestly, outside the STEMS (respect) academics are a fucking joke.

  10. Once government or the public picks up the tab for health care (and that’s effectively what it is doing, between ACA and Medicare/Medicaid), it has to cut costs. And there are only two ways of cutting costs: regulate prices for providers and drugs, and reduce costs by getting people to get sick less often.

    Unfortunately, the government is incapable of doing either particularly well. Price regulations are subject to extensive rent seeking and lobbying, causing government to reward politically powerful players instead of effective treatments. And decades of FDA regulations have shown that the government has no idea what makes people sick or healthy, and FDA regulations are subject to extensive lobbying as well.

    In the end, we’ll have to accept extensive restrictions on our liberty, which result not in better health, but ever bigger rewards to rent seekers.

    1. I think you’re on cue here.

      It’s not often discussed, or perhaps even recognized by people, but Canada’s health care is cost-centric. Not patient-centric. It’s cost-centric because of what you just said.

      It’s ironic, something that’s supposed to be for the ‘common and greater good’ ends up seemingly lacking in compassion at the individual level.

      Welcome to one size fits all.

      1. but at least we’re not americans

        /canuck proggie

        1. Hey. That’s my line!

          I always point out that no matter how shit or mediocre we get the answer always ends being ‘at least we’re not American.’

          Lame, lame, lame.

    2. I came here to say almost exactly this. Once you put the government in charge of healthcare, you’re opening the door for them to regulate your entire life in the name of shared cost savings and so forth.

      THIS is why Obamacare is such a huge power grab. It’s giving the government a justification to exert total regulatory control over your most basic decisions.

      1. I would agree with this if I though for an instant that the buttinskis didn’t ALREADY feel they had multiple justifications to put their noses in my business.

        1. Obamacare and other socializing of costs and risks turn paternalistic government from an ideological obsession of the left into a fiscal concern for both parties.

          It would be brilliant if it weren’t so copycat: it’s basically why European socialists and European Christian parties are politically so close.

  11. Damn, I’m glad I don’t text!

  12. Enjoy single payer guys.

    You’re fucked.

    1. And where do you live that you aren’t “fucked”?

      1. You must be new.

        Everyone know I’m already fucked.

        I live in Canad’eh.

        1. knows.

          1. Fucker!

  13. The Government is going to have to pry my quarter pounder w/cheese from my warm, sausage like fingers.

  14. If beef and pork are no longer available I guess I’ll have to start eating academics and government officials. Maybe with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

  15. I agree. When meat is banned “for the greater good” – then we have no choice but to start eating sanctimonious leftists who think they have the right to bitch the rest of the world based on their insane, low IQ, “progressive” religion.

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