By Katie Deinhammer, Director of Accounts
Americans really want to be healthier. As a country, our favorite New Year’s resolution — year after year — is to lose weight. So, either we’re all high on success and just want to get skinnier and skinnier, or we’re failing miserably and have to start over every year.
Why is it so hard for us to make the right choices? Food marketers have caught on to the fact that we want to make the healthier choice, and every January they do their best to position their products in the healthiest light possible. They call out anything that sounds remotely nutritious — “now with antioxidants” or “made with only three all-natural ingredients” — on packaging, in commercials, on their Web sites and on your best friend’s Facebook page. So, we end up buying foods we convince ourselves are healthy because the labels suggest they are, even though we know deep down that an all-natural potato chip is still a greasy chip even if it only has three organic ingredients. And once we try these foods, we like them (because they’re much more sugary/fatty/calorie-rich than the pretty ads with amber waves of grain suggest), and we keep eating them until next January when we realize we’ve gained 10 pounds and resolve again to lose weight.
If food and beverage marketers were politicians, they’d almost all be busted for whitewashing. If we question the antioxidants in their sodas like we’d question an eco-friendly appliance delivered in a box filled with styrofoam, we’d write them off as greenwashers. So why not call them out for leanwashing? To be clear, we don’t necessarily have a problem with “responsible” junk food advertising, as long as a cookie is called a cookie, not an “all natural energy boost with protein” just because it has one walnut in it.
Two years ago, EnviroMedia launched a consumer discussion forum about the responsibility and authenticity of environmental marketing claims — the Greenwashing Index. Perhaps it’s time to take a similar look at leanwashing. In the meantime, make it your 2010 resolution to notice nutritional claims, and put them to the leanwashing test: Even though something about them sounds healthy, will you be resolving to hit the treadmill again in 2011 if you eat them all year?
If you’re looking for more information about how you can work toward making the healthy choice the default choice, take a look at this video series we produced for the Texas Department of State Health Services highlighting successful community-based efforts around Texas. Our work is currently being showcased by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national foundation dedicated to improving the health and health care of all Americans.