The Epidemic of Health Confusion

Misleading advertising is damaging our health.

James Wallace
May 19, 2019 · 6 min read

It is time to start holding the secretive food industry accountable for their detrimental impacts on public health. Fatalities from food-related illnesses such as heart disease and cancer are through the roof, and recent data shows that nearly 40% of American adults are obese. However, the majority of the population is not even shedding an eye. Health is predominantly misunderstood, and the system of food marketing is using deceit and influential advertising strategies in order to progress their profits, rather than the health of the population. Without more awareness and an understanding of the roots of the health epidemic we are facing, individuals will continue to fall for the unethical schemes of the industry and be further down the track of inevitable sickness.

When strolling through a grocery store, shopping for healthy foods may be of importance to you. But, have you ever stopped to think about the food labeling and packaging from a marketing perspective? With health organizations attempting to crack down on the ingredients and foods that are causing harm, health consciousness has increased slightly, and most people will put at least a small effort into looking at nutrition labels and understanding what they are eating. However, recently it has become evident that the amount of unrecognizable ingredients that have been deemed unhealthy has deceased significantly. Unfortunately, this is not a sign of improvement.

The food marketing industry has started an operation called “clean label” in which they try to remove the most obvious industrial ingredients and replace them with substitutes that will sound better to consumers. And often, these substitutes are cheaper for the producer, yielding greater profits, and look like a healthier option (despite many health concerns with chemically-engineered ingredients) . We are on track for more and more food engineering innovations to take place, and an increasing amount of chemically engineered food products coming into the market. With this, the confusion will progress, and perceptions of health will be skewed even further.

These companies have the oppurtunity to do the right thing and make more efforts in pursuit of public health. Instead, they undercut the regulations and use unethical tactics to advertise products that are slowly killing each and every one of us. And even worse, these marketing companies are targeting children. Based on a Federal Trade Commission report, about $870 million in marketing spending was directed at children under 12, while only $1 billion was aimed at teenagers. Susan Lin, the Director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, discussed that the marketing industry is policing itself, and no one is putting a stop to it despite the obvious issues. These companies are training children to become lifelong addicts to their toxic food products, and no one is standing in their way.

After considering the deception of the ingredients within most foods you will find in a supermarket, it is feasible that these companies will go even further to sell their products. Consumers with a low degree of health consciousness may be easily fooled by the packaging that is strategically placed onto foods. Terms such as “organic”, “fat-free”, “whole-grain”, and “superfood” tricked me before knowing the things I know now, and they are sure to decieve an unknowing customer looking to buy a healthy product.

A study at a large public university in the southwestern United States consisting of over three hundred undergraduate students investigated ability to determine if foods were healthy or not based on their packaging and nutrition label.

“Every single product that was labeled with one of the marketing “buzzwords” was rated significantly healthier than the exact same product that had the one word or image removed… there is an implicit link between those trigger words and health”.

The bottom line is that people simply do not understand which food will benefit them and which will harm them as a result of abundant confusion about health. We need a new system in place to educate people, instead of leaving individuals to figure it out for themselves and hope they don’t fall for the schemes of the power-hungry food industry.

These warnings cannot be taken lightly. The NutriNet-Santé Study consisting of over 100,000 participants in France discovered a terrifying link between these processed foods and cancer.

“A 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with significant increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.”

With just a minimal increase in consumption of processed foods having such a detrimental impact, there is no telling what the cancer rates will be in the future. With new innovations of processing foods happening at a rapid pace, this poison will be even more widely available, and the industry will only become more secretive about what we are actually consuming.

In my own life, I did not become aware of the true meaning of health until entering college and uncovering the facts through my health management course. In fact, much of the information I learned was a result of my professors’ passion for whole food plant-based nutrition and change in this world regarding health and prevention of food-related disease and death. Up until that point, I was lost and living in a state of uncertainty, scavenging the internet for fitness and nutrition plans. And even in my nutrition concepts course, I did not learn about the negative impacts of many foods that are responsible for deaths in growing numbers throughout the world, or the loose guidelines of nutritional labeling. So, it is no wonder that the majority of the population is not taking steps in the right direction.

We need change, and we need it now in order to stop this immense progression of terrible nutrition. Putting more regulations in place for food producers in order to force them to list exactly what is in their product would be a start. Corporations need to be held accountable for their large-scale attacks on public health. However, if companies become too powerful to halt with policy change, the implementation of truthful nutrition courses will become even more of a necessity.

In a cross-sectional study of 121 college students’ diets and knowledge of nutrition, results demonstrated that more than half of the participants (65.3%) indicated that they consume processed food either every day or more than once a day. In addition, the students demonstrated understanding that fast food and processed foods are unhealthy and contain unfavorable ingredients. Considering this, it becomes clear that there is not enough knowledge for behavior change to occur.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that the implementation of nutrition intervention through courses focusing on disease prevention and dietary choices significantly increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and greatly decreased consumption of French fries(one of the measurements of the study) in college students. Required nutritional courses similar to this study could provide huge benefits to public health at large. It seems irresponsible that a system like this is not already in place.

Without knowledge, the public will have no means of making a change in their nutrition, and the average American diet will live on. The earlier this information is passed on to future consumers, the quicker we can find solutions to this world-wide epidemic of health confusion. With the next generation having the power of knowledge, our world can finally begin to truly progress with health. We cannot afford to be complacent with this complication. The scope of the impacts are already substantial, and the thought of a future without true health consciousness along with increasing influence and pretense from the food industry is frightening to say the least.

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James Wallace

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James Wallace

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