Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Did you know ... political groups try to frame public health issues FOR you?

I have been researching common advertising themes that are effective among younger populations, and I came upon this Web site today. The Center for Consumer Freedom is an industry-funded site that purports to tell "the truth" about obesity ...

- The government is controlling you by calling out food manufacturers about their shoddy labeling;
- The government is interfering in your basic rights to be an American;
- Obesity is not caused by fatty foods;
- Exercise will cure all obesity;
- Sugary sodas are good for you because they help the performance of elite athletes (seriously, this is their argument. See study here and "unbiased" interpretation here).

I must admit that their ad campaign is incredibly clever, appealing to basic American principles such as freedom of choice, independence, liberty, etc., etc. However, it's important to recognize that this is all a sham, at least from a public health perspective.

The food lobby is using the same arguments that the tobacco companies used in the past few decades: Our product isn't dangerous for you because we say it isn't! Your freedom to eat (smoke) is being infringed upon! NO MORE BIG GOVERNMENT!!! BLAHHH!!!!

Have you ever wondered why they're using these outdated and ridiculous arguments? Maybe it's because many food giants are actually owned by tobacco companies (as you might find in this awesome article about marketing food to children). For example, Philip Morris, under its alias Altria, owns both Nabisco and Kraft foods. Are we surprised that they're using the same detrimental marketing and social influence techniques to make sure their products remain on the market?

I'm all about supporting individuals' right to choose, but I'm also all about them receiving accurate information about what they're putting in their bodies. If I know that my food is chock full of chemicals, and I understand the ramifications of eating that food, then I assume responsibility for my consumption patterns. If, however, I am coerced into believing that the food I eat is NOT HARMFUL, how can I be expected to make reasonable decisions about my diet?

Again, I think Twinkies and Ding Dongs have their place (i.e., occasionally on my plate), but I understand the risk associated with those products. I wonder whether the rest of the nation really "gets" what's going on ... or whether they're being manipulated by the same crappy companies that used to market cigarettes to kids and the urban poor.

Also, let's not forget that industry-sponsored initiatives often prompt the "boomerang" effect, encouraging people to engage in the negative behavior instead of preventing illness. Ex: The tobacco industry's anti-smoking ads actually encouraged more kids to smoke (as we addressed in an an earlier post on this blog). Do you think McDonald's or Coke's fitness initiatives are really going to promote health? Or are they a surreptitious way to promote inactivity?

Looks like a job for The Public Health Models. We'll keep you updated on this topic.

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