WASHINGTON, DC—In a surprising reversal of its longtime single-helping policy, the Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of seconds Tuesday, claiming that an additional plateful of food with every meal can greatly reduce the risk of hunger as well as provide an excellent source of deliciousness.
Addressing what it calls a "growing epidemic of cravings and hankerings," the federal agency recommended redesigning food labels to prominently display extra-serving sizes and pledged to better educate consumers on how to make informed additional-portion choices at home and in restaurants.
"There's plenty to go around," FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach said between spoonfuls of mashed potatoes during a benefit luncheon at the Clean Plate Club in Washington. "We've found that eating seconds is essential for keeping up the country's strength."
"Besides, with people starving in other parts of the world, it would be an absolute shame to let our nice food supply all go to waste," the commissioner added.
Once restricted to the head of the household, on Thanksgiving, or to those who had been extra good, seconds will now be made available to the general public in over-the-kitchen-counter form. However, FDA officials warn that those with a history of health problems should consult their doctor first.
"Seconds may not be suitable for everyone," von Eschenbach said. "Especially those who suffer from heart disease, those at risk for diabetes, people trying to lose weight, and women."
The FDA also recommended moderation in consuming seconds. Researchers in the seconds field have noted occasional side effects, such as hardly being able to get up from the table, pants-loosening, drowsiness, and the feeling that one "might explode" if one eats just one more bite.
A report commissioned by the Las Vegas–based International Brotherhood of Buffet Owners revealed that 75 percent of undereating occurs in those afflicted by a rare disorder in which their eyes are smaller than their stomachs, preventing them from taking advantage of all-you-can-eat opportunites. Picky eating habits and an unwillingness to stuff oneself are considered the leading preventable causes of scrawniness among Americans.
"Growing boys represent the greatest at-risk group, as unprecedented numbers of them are wasting away," registered dietician and grandmother of six Irma Jacobs said. "They'll just turn into skin and bones before our very eyes unless we make a concerted effort to get them to eat, eat, eat up."
Other nutritionists suggest that the need for seconds could be eliminated by an initial very large, or "heaping," helping.
"Larger portions could entirely eliminate the need to reach over, pass dishes, or get out of a chair," said clinical nutritionist Gary Bergen of Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who estimates that millions of calories and thousands of hours of eating time are wasted annually by making unnecessary second-serving trips. "I find it ironic that the FDA has approved seconds, yet still hasn't standardized the dollop."
Despite months of work and the purchase of several new wardrobes, FDA researchers say their study of the consumption of thirds and fourths has been inconclusive, but they suggest a possible link between these additional servings and tummy aches.