Watch What You Eat: The Media’s Impact On Diet

What will it be today: a nutritious breakfast with a leprechaun or a toucan, a Captain or a honeybee, a tiger or a rabbit, or how about a nice cannibalistic piece of cinnamon toast? And that’s just some of the cereal options.

It’s no secret when we see that picture-perfect breakfast on T.V. – the one with that gleaming bowl of cereal, a glass of pure white milk and colorful piece of grapefruit, or some other citrus on the side –  we never plan on eating that entire meal.

Most days we are stuck with the least nutritious part of a ‘healthy’ breakfast. Cartoon characters, colorful packaging and catchy jingles are all good ploys to get little kids to remember their sugar cravings and most parents are happy to oblige them. Even if they themselves aren’t the tiniest bit swayed by the nostalgia induced by commercials.

The bombardment doesn’t stop at breakfast. Big companies have big contracts with schools, T.V. stations, government. etc. Media heavily influences the American standard of healthy living and contributes to the obesity epidemic.

The-Media’s-Impact-On-Diet

The Problem

America is unhealthy. It’s going to take more than a doctor telling us, “good health starts with eating our vegetables” for us to find our way out of this epidemic (Gardner).

Obesity is a serious condition, “a condition characterized by storage of excessive amounts of fat” (“Obesity”). Most of us are well acquainted with the road to healthy living: diet and exercise, but we aren’t very fond of the idea of giving up sugar and going to the gym 4-5 hours a day.

It’s natural to crave sweets especially as a child. After all:

We are genetically attracted to fructose as children. Sweet plant foods are the least toxic, and children are less likely to become sick by eating sweet berries than sour berries. Therefore, early humans sought out sweet berries and other plant foods. Our tolerance for sweet foods has deceived us into thinking some are healthy. … Whole fruits are what our bodies were meant to consume. (Gardner)

Abstinence from all sugar products is wholly unnecessary. You don’t even have to go to a gym to be healthy.

Exercise

“Americans, on average, take 5,117 steps a day” which is about half of what is expected of someone in “good health” (Parker-pope).

Want some advice on exercising? Maybe go on “a nice, regular walk” (Warding Off The Common Coldplate). Like many things in life health is all about balance. Exercising, eating more whole foods and not eating when you’re not hungry, are great ways to start living better.

Expenses

If your mama’s nagging voice hasn’t convinced you to try and live a healthier life maybe you’re hungry wallet will. “Obesity costs tens of billions of dollars annually” (“Warding Off the Common Coldplate”).

When you buy a hamburger now you end up paying more than you bargained for in health care later, but who likes hamburgers anyway?

Kale ad Campaign

Anyone can sell a hamburger. They practically sell themselves. It takes a real genius to sell broccoli. Advertising that takes a stab at promoting health deserves recognition.

Victors & Spoils mock ad campaign “Broccoli vs. Kale” is the closest to a vegetable advert campaign this country may ever see. Their creative team brainstormed slogans such as “43% less pretentious than kale,” “The broquet” and “The meat of any salad,” and while their highly meme-able ads were never posted on any real billboards or posted in any real stores the internet is buzzing with broccoli.

Without spending much more than time on this project (which would have cost anywhere from $3 to $10 million dollars to actually run) Victors & Spoils has still managed to inform the public on the importance of eating vegetables giving America the wake-up call that it desperately needed (Moss).

“As of 2010, diet surpassed smoking as the No. 1 risk factor for disease and death in America” (Moss).  Ad’s on smoking are out, while ad’s on eating are in.

Commercials and Consumption

T.V. affects obesity more than any other source of media (Healy).  When we watch T.V. we don’t exercise at all. We don’t move or blink. We sit down and we shut off or worse we sit and absentmindedly finish our third bag of chips.

Dr. Jennifer Harris, Director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for food policy and obesity at Yale, said “Food advertising triggers automatic eating, regardless of hunger, and is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic” ( “TV Food Advertising Increases Snacking”).

If you eat all the time you’re bound to pack on a few pounds but it isn’t just the eating we should be worried about. We should be worried about eating being an “automatic” response.

It is difficult enough to consciously make the right decisions. Controlling our impulses is much more strenuous. Dr. Harris’s research along with the research of several other Yale students proved that there is a “link between television food advertising and calories consumed by adults and children” ( “TV Food Advertising Increases Snacking”). Her conclusion was “reducing unhealthy food advertising to children is critical” ( “TV Food Advertising Increases Snacking”).

If commercials continue to grip the public’s appetite, then it won’t just be our generation that is faced with severe health problems, but our kids generation and their kids generation.

Childhood Obesity

Unfortunately obesity isn’t just an adult issue anymore, “about a third of kids and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight,” (Healy).

Children are being required to take being healthy into their own hands. It is unfair to make them responsible for a potentially life and death decision. Especially without proper education on what healthy foods are and how to eat healthy.

Pediatrician Michael McDowell said “marketing aimed at children is a form of child abuse.” He also said that media “is the largest contributing factor to what they (kids) eat, how they think about food, (and), how they influence their parents decisions” (“Box Turns Kids Into Fat Idiots”).

Like with most things media has too much power over what we eat. The voices coming from the TV, the computer, and your child’s phones are more real to them than reality. Most children walk through life unaware of all of the influences surrounding them. Smiling foodstuff mascots don’t seem so friendly when they are leading little kids into an early grave. It isn’t just the commercials we should be worried about.

School Lunches

Thousands of kids go to school in America. Most children eat school lunches. “Healthier school-lunch standards are again under attack” (Nicks et al). At least once a week, most cafeterias serve pizza. The alternatives are equally as processed and unhealthy. Even the fruit cups (a substitute more common after Michelle Obama’s attack on America’s health problem) are filled with all sorts of chemicals I can’t pronounce.

Skeptics who don’t believe School lunches can be improved state, “children accustomed to Tater Tots are unlikely to start wolfing down kale” (Nicks et al). I have never met anyone who “wolfs down kale” let alone a child, but they are missing the big picture. It would be a big improvement if we could just get the majority of kids to nibble on some lettuce once in a while.

School health standards are atrocious. Instead of making school lunches more nutritious to rise to our standards we’ve lowered our standards to fit our unhealthy lifestyle. “The revised standards count the small amount of tomato sauce in pizza as a vegetable serving” (Nicks et al). News Flash: Pizza isn’t a vegetable!

Food Companies

The contracts schools have with food companies are very large. Losing a contract with a school could mean thousands of dollars in profit loss for a corporation like Kraft.

Big Companies Like General Mills and Kraft are strong financial supporters of our government. (I wonder what the government does to prompt their generosity?)

In recent events, people have criticized what the FDA recognizes as parmesan cheese. Unlike Italian parmesan cheese which must measure up to several high standards, American parmesan cheese has very few standards. It must be made out of milk or some milk approximate, coagulated by any “safe and suitable milk-clotting enzyme,” heated, drained and aged for ten months. The FDA allows Kraft to put nearly twice as much cellulose (wood pulp) in their Parmesan cheese nearly twice as recommended. The FDA has no restrictions on how much wood pulp to allow in food in the Code of Federal Restrictions.

The FDA’s health standards are rather frightening. If they don’t prevent people from bleaching our food or adding large amounts of non-food to it, what are they preventing (Marcus)? The FDA needs to support the average American and put the health and well being of them before the appetites of industrial giants with corporate power.

Conclusion

After a few hours, few minutes, few days – depending on what I ate. I am ready to mount the porcelain pony, the john, the crapper, the throne, potty, toilet, etc. As I go, I enjoy my moment of peace for the day (or in some cases week) and I relieve myself of the responsibility of eating healthy. The countless slogans and the jingles of products varying from coffee to burgers will still be running through my head.

I have memorized the logos of mermaids, clowns,  jack-in-the-boxes, red-headed-girls and kings. People must choose to be healthier for themselves. I can’t save the children struggling with obesity or make health standards in American higher, but I can take comfort in the fact that tomorrow I can skip the cereal, turn off the TV,  have an apple, and go on a walk.

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