The New American “Diet”

If you haven’t dined out, visited the drive through, or stocked up on packaged foods in the past week, I applaud you.  For the rest of us, with too little time, too much to do, and tight budgets, these can make up the majority of our diets.  Let’s face it, eating and cooking fresh can be pricey, and watching your produce waste away in the refrigerator is a little bit depressing.  In a country overrun with obesity and simultaneously fascinated with eating better, lighter options in stores and restaurants have become relatively commonplace.  So if we’re all buying the low-calorie options, why aren’t we getting thinner?

Diet Coke, turkey burgers, and yogurt parfaits are only a few of the products often advertised and consumed as healthy alternatives to their higher calorie counterparts, but items like these can be the downfall of our healthy lifestyles.  Coca-Cola is a large offender, especially with their “all calories count” message in a recent anti-obesity ad campaign.  This campaign essentially highlights the improvements to Coca-Cola products and frames their beverages in a way that attempts to diminish their reputation as one of the biggest causes of obesity.

Along with this beverage super-star, fast-food chains like McDonalds have focused ads on their lighter fare, restaurants advertise low-calorie menus, and snacks are packaged in smaller servings. The problem is, not all calories are equal, and not all low-calorie foods are healthy.  These companies position these products for the average American, looking to make improvements to their diet without much hassle, and it works.  Why you might ask?  It’s not because we don’t think about the choices we make, or are easily fooled.  It’s because advertisers utilize the fundamentals to communicate their messages.

Advertisers are truly the kings and queens of Aristotle’s appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos.  They appear credible with FDA nutrition facts printed clearly on each label, appeal to our emotions by loading their ads with language and messages about healthy living or weight loss, and petition our logic with facts about what goes into different items and how the calories add up.

This isn’t to say that most people will be quick to believe that a McDonald’s hamburger is part of a healthy diet because it’s part of the “under 400 calories” menu.  However, for those of us looking to do the best we can with the time and budgets we have, these ads can play powerful roles in decision-making.

The big question about these types of ads, is whether or not it’s ethical to allow unhealthy products to be represented as the means to a healthier life.  For many people, shopping and eating well is a guessing game, largely impacted by packaging, print, and television ads.  In a world where being overweight or obese can cause health problems, social anxiety, and even death, should companies be required to avoid misleading their consumers?  It’s an age-old question unlikely to be answered anytime soon.

Ally Walton