Posts Tagged ‘Food Companies’
It’s a proven fact that most people change their eating habits and lifestyle choices only after a serious health scare such as a heart attack or a diabetes diagnosis. Still, in many cases that may not be enough. Old habits tend to die hard, but often there are also not many alternatives to what they’ve been doing in terms of eating right and taking care of themselves.
A recent study found that most consumers after being confronted with a major health crisis were still influenced in their choices by factors other than what’s good for their health. For example, people can find it difficult to change their long established eating habits, says Dr. Yu Ma, an economics professor at Alberta School of Business and author of the study. Another highly influential factor is price, he says. If they get a good deal on a particular item, they will go for it, and if it’s too expensive, they will stay away, no matter how much they would benefit healthwise.
Another issue is what he calls the “health halo effect.” Most people divide foods simply into two categories: healthy and unhealthy, he says. If something is considered healthful, e.g. a salad or a breakfast cereal, as opposed to a cheeseburger or a sugar-laden donut, people tend to overindulge in the “healthy” stuff without much further thought. We have seen that phenomenon when, for example, fat-free cookies came on the market and many believed they could consume those in almost unlimited quantities because of the absence of fat. Of course, eliminating the fat did not make those cookies less caloric, and the results became apparent soon thereafter.
Another study, this one on heart attack and stroke patients, showed that nearly 15 percent did not alter their eating and lifestyle habits after the incident, including poor diet choices, lack of exercise and smoking. Less than half of all participants in the study reported having made at least one change, and less than a third said they made several improvements. Only 4 percent claimed they did everything that was recommended to them to prevent further deterioration of their health.
Much of the unwillingness or inability to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices can be blamed on the widespread confusion among the public due to the ceaseless onslaught of sometimes contradictory messages in the media about health matters. In addition, many of the warnings issued by experts are hard to heed by consumers who are oftentimes ignorant, if not intentionally kept in the dark, about the nutritional quality of their food supply. For instance, recommendations to avoid high fat, salt and sugar content may be well-meaning, but they are by and large useless when ingredients lists are hard to decipher or when restaurants aren’t required to follow any dietary guidelines or to post nutritional information on their menus.
“I think people are interested in making changes and they are heeding the warnings,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy at the John Hopkins School of Public Health to NBCNews. “But when it comes to food, it’s much more complicated. Cereal, for example, has a tremendous amount of added sugar. And not everyone understands that breakfast foods like muffins and pastry, things that people don’t consider to be a dessert or an indulgence, pack a lot of sugar.” Similar concerns apply to salt in countless processed foods, many of which don’t even taste salty, and certain types of fats, some of which are obscured by arbitrary serving descriptions on food labels.
Undoubtedly, more and more people want to be better informed about nutritional health and be empowered to make the right choices. With growing consumer demand for further regulation and protection, that may be feasible over time. But for now, it’s an ongoing uphill battle, and most of us have to fend for ourselves as well as we can.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
Parents have long felt outgunned when battling the food industry for the hearts and minds of their children. Whenever they try to limit exposure to advertisements on TV, the Internet and in supermarkets, marketers have already found new ways to interact with their youngest customers.
The latest frontier: Ads on smartphones and tablets. New technologies allow companies to directly reach children by placing their products in games and other displays designed for touch-screen devices.
This is an especially fertile ground. Mobile apps are extremely popular with young kids as well as teenagers. And what’s even better for the industry, so far they are completely unregulated.
“The mobile games demonstrate how new technology is changing U.S. commerce, drawing tighter bonds between marketers and young consumers,” writes Anton Troianovski in an article for the Wall Street Journal.
This provides many new opportunities for food companies that have long been pressured by government agencies and advocacy groups to limit their advertising efforts aimed at children. “If [kids] have their phone with them, they can be playing these games that are basically advertisements in school and basically 24/7,” warned Jennifer Harris of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in an interview for the article.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made a number of attempts to impose more regulations on advertisers who target underage audiences but has never been able to get beyond issuing a few “voluntary guidelines.” In its latest initiative, the agency hopes to at least “shine some light” on current industry practices. It is unclear what that will entail.
Past proposals for regulatory measures have been rejected by Congress as too strict or burdensome, and several government agencies have eventually dropped their combined efforts to tighten control. Still, over a dozen major food companies, among them McDonald’s, Burger King, Mars Inc. and Kraft, have committed themselves to promoting more healthy foods to children, a somewhat vague but welcome step in the right direction. However, product placements on apps are not affected by this agreement.
Other increasingly common approaches marketers take are so-called cross-promotions where foods and beverages are simultaneously tied to movies, TV shows, product packaging, the Internet and in-store displays. According to one report by the FTC, film characters like Superman or Pirates of the Caribbean reappear in video games (a.k.a. “advergames”) and free downloads (a.k.a. “Webisodes”) from websites. The agency has recently asked media and entertainment companies to be more discriminatory when licensing such characters and to restrict campaigns to healthier foods and beverages when they are directed towards children. Again, there are no mandatory rules in any of these matters.
What concerns me most about these new technologies and their ability to help reach children by bypassing parental supervision is just that. Parents are supposed to be gatekeepers who protect their children from outside influences, at least in the early stages of their lives.
You may say it is still up to the adults to decide what foods are being bought and served in the home. But companies know very well about the “nag factor” and how persuasive children can be in their demands. They know that snack foods and candy are widely used as pacifiers to stave off temper tantrums. They know that their youngest targets are unable to distinguish between advertising and truth-telling, and that they can easily be manipulated. As I said before, parents find themselves routinely outgunned against this onslaught.
It would be naïve to think we can completely control the impact of new technologies on our lives and how they will be used. But that still does not absolve us from acting responsibly, especially on behalf of our children. It’s a battle worth fighting.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.