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Food labeling is there to help us make the right decisions about the foods we eat. But it's so inaccurate that it's leading us astray. We're ending up eating more processed foods, and getting less healthy - and food labeling is partly to blame.

It’s no secret that we’re fat. But just how fat we are is sometimes shocking if you don’t spend all day reading articles on the internet about nutrition, so let’s unpack some figures.

Americans are fatter than anyone’s ever been before.

It’s not an isolated case here and there, and it’s not that there are 3 more 400-pound women this year than last year. The general American population has an epidemic weight problem.

Over two thirds of American adults are overweight.

A third are clinically obese, meaning they’re so overweight that it has already begun to measurably damage their health. And over 6% of American adults – that’s one in twenty – is morbidly obese, so overweight that it’s shortening their lives and making them sick.

We’re psychologically fat too. Recent studies showed that kids who were overweight thought they were fine – they didn’t know what a healthy weight was supposed to look like. The next week, another study showed that their parents didn’t know either; they thought their obese kids were normal – and technically, they were right.

You might not have known the figures, but you knew the problem existed.

What’s counterintuitive is that in the last thirty years more and more of us have begun trying to eat a healthy diet, take exercise and keep on top of our weight.

The ideal on cinema screens, for both men and women, has changed quite radically – just compare old photos of Steve McQueen to new photos of Ryan Gosling or even Hugh Jackman, or contrast Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor with, say, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian or Anna Paquin. I’m making no comparison in terms of their work as actors – just noting that physiques on screens for men and women have become more and more idealized and difficult to realize. At the same time, the North American weight loss and obesity market is worth about $140 billion dollars a year. So we’re not fat because we don’t care.

One problem we face is a long-hours culture and low wages, making it hard to find time to exercise.

Another is lack of basic fitness knowledge. And a third is the destructive diet advice issued by governments – if we’d all followed the low-fat, low-protein, high-carb diet and the jogging regime that has been the standard fitness advice now for nearly half a century, maybe even more of us would have diabetes.

But there is another major problem: even when we want to do the right thing, we can’t because we don’t know how.

When we go food shopping, some of us only go to organic farms where we buy the very best free-range, non-GMO, hand-reared asparagus and wild salmon caught with spears. If that’s you, you can afford to be gently mocked because you’re going to live forever. Some of us just walk down the extra-wide aisles filling the cart with cheesy puff snacks and soda. Good luck with that. Most of us are in the middle – not fanatical or seriously dedicated to a specific way of eating well, we still want to monitor our calorie intake, keep on top of eating too much fat (a misguided impulse but a sign of good intentions nonetheless) and get some vitamins once in a while.

So we’re walking down the aisles in the supermarket and we pick up a package.

How do we know what’s in it?

We read the nutrition label. That will tell us how much fat, sugar, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals are in the food we’re holding.

And that’s the problem.

Food nutrition labels are making us fat by tricking us into making bad nutrition choices.

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