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

2 thoughts on “The New American “Diet”

  1. Interesting question indeed. Is “less bad” a real good? Ethicists have explored this topic but you bring a great case to light in the marketing of the food products you mention. If someone needs to eat and feel pleasantly full when they’re done and a turkey burger or snack wrap does that with less calories and “bad stuff” than a Big Mac then that is relative progress. But if “flavored water” is basically “soda” without the fizz but marketed as a healthy alternative then that would seem deceptive. Great case!

  2. I think Americans have really gone through several phases as far as how we treat our health/health information over the past few decades. In the 50s we had a relatively healthy society, in my opinion. Women’s bodies were larger, in a healthier sense, and weight had not quite been stigmatized by the media in combination with the fact that fast food was not so necessary for their slower paced lives. Then we entered an era of overconsumption and obesity, this is namely how we got the stereotype of being “fat Americans” by foreign countries. More recently we moved into an age where people began to be more concerned for their health, but the unfortunate side of that is exactly what you said “For many people, shopping and eating well is a guessing game, largely impacted by packaging, print, and television ads.” Essentially, becoming healthy became a bandwagon for the sake of following the trend rather than an effort to better your body for the sake of yourself. We have all found ourselves victims of buying the seemingly healthy sugar filled Luna bars, saturated fat pita chips, and carb overload granola. We make these purchases because they present us with commercials like these (and more): numbers taken out of context or overemphasized, picturesque scenes of fit families eating their product, or thin celebrity spokespersons advertising a product that they most likely have never even tried. So yes I do think it is unethical for companies to lie to their consumers for the sake of sales, and in the long run I think this will hurt them, People may begin to favor a product like Coca Cola upon seeing this commercial, thinking it is the healthier option they will buy more of their products and probably make it one of their primary drinks. It is not going to be long before they begin to see the residua side effects of what is none other than a SODA, just like the rest. Upon realizing that they have been lied to, I think it will cause companies to lose long time customers and eventually gain a reputation that prevents them from brining in new customers.

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