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As I reclined in my chair stuffing my face, I came across a New York Times article with a headline that read like a joke — “Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less.” Between mouthfuls of my deep-fried eggroll, I laughed.

The focus of the article was the new dietary guidelines put forth by the United States Department of Agriculture. After taking a swig of my Coke, I wondered whether half of the students at Penn even knew about these guidelines. Then I wondered if it would even make a difference if they did know. Probably not, I thought as I bit into a BBQ spare rib. They would have to make deliciousness illegal. And they’ll do it over my dead, diabetic, atherosclerosed body.

If you didn’t know about the guidelines before, don’t feel terrible. Stella Volpe, chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University and former Penn nursing professor, admitted in an e-mail that the guidelines “have been better publicized than in the past,” but they “can still be better publicized.”

What is the point of having them, though, if no one knows that they exist? There’s a reason the Surgeon General’s Warning is emblazoned on cigarette packaging instead of an obscure website that no one will visit. There’s a reason it’s called the “Surgeon General’s Warning” — three very intimidating words — and not the “Surgeon General’s Lukewarm, Spineless Suggestion.”

For your information, the guidelines are released by the USDA every five years and provide instructions on how to eat a healthy diet based on current scientific evidence and knowledge. You’ve probably heard about them in one incarnation or another. You may recognize them from one of their past lives — as the food pyramid.

Wharton freshman Jake Dinkel is one of the students who wasn’t aware of the guidelines. But when asked what he thought should be in them, he replied, “People should consume more fruits and vegetables, eat in moderation and have a calorie intake proportional to weight and exercise level.” Dinkel should consider foregoing that i-banking job — he may have a future in health policy.

It seems that the food pyramid that has been seared into our minds from the cradle hasn’t been completely turned on its head. It’s just that the government doesn’t do much in the way of marketing to make the pyramid a tourist trap.

I would say that most Penn students are similar to Dinkel in knowing what we should be eating. The problem lies in what happens after you swipe your card, walk into the dining hall and see the pizza on one end and the salad bar on the other.

If nothing else, then the guidelines should at least be a call for organizations that provide food for large groups of people to take into account not only what foods are served, but how they are offered.

“We try to encourage people to make healthier choices, even if they’re going to include the burger and fries,” said Pam Lampitt, general manager for Conference Services at Penn. The University offers various food education initiatives and programs on campus, she said.

But it seems that measures taken by Dining Services that would have the most positive impact on student health are the ones where the students have no choice at all. Tray-less dining and smaller cup sizes, implemented in the dining halls, lead to smaller portions and less eating.

Similarly, the “Eat Local Challenge” — where the students could only eat food made with local ingredients — meant that the soda machines were turned off. “This wasn’t a popular choice with the students, but it was still an educational experience,” said Terri Brownlee, a Bon Appetit nutritionist.

But we shouldn’t be so afraid of a little tough love sometimes. Students can choose to ignore good counsel, but when policies are put in place that force them to examine their lifestyles, then the background static of guidelines and recommendations that went unnoticed becomes harder to tune out.

Mark Attiah is a first-year medical student from Dallas, Texas. His e-mail address is Truth Be Told appears every other Thursday.

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