For Immediate Release: March 12, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas — The team that taught consumers how to call out greenwashing is now launching the Leanwashing Index. The new tool at www.LeanwashingIndex.com allows users to post and rate advertising, packaging or any other food and fitness marketing that makes health claims.
“We dubbed the misleading health claims leanwashing,” said Valerie Davis, co-creator of the Greenwashing Index™. The Leanwashing Index is the follow-up to the hugely popular and influential Greenwashing Index, featured by The New York Times, Time and Newsweek.
The Leanwashing Index site was created as a public service by EnviroMedia Social Marketing with input from a panel of advisers that includes: former food marketing insider Bruce Bradley; California Center for Public Health Advocacy Executive Director Dr. Harold Goldstein; Dr. Gretchen Nurse, assistant professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona; and pediatrician Dr. Stephen Pont, medical director of the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
Consumers are already calling out what they see as leanwashing. The first posts target “nutrition-rich” cookies, breakfast cereals, and drink ads targeting moms and kids. To get the site started, Dr. Nurse’s undergraduate students have posted some 40 ads, and today the call goes out for consumers to begin posting and rating more ads.
Says Bradley, who has worked for Nabisco, Pillsbury and General Mills, “It’s no secret advertisers are not going to look out for consumer’s health. It’s time for consumers to take control and go beyond what they see on TV or on the front of the package.”
“With pizza considered a vegetable for school lunches, and the voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children stalled out in Washington, we know consumers need something now to help them scrutinize some of the bogus ‘health’ claims that abound in food and product advertising.” said EnviroMedia co-founder and CEO Davis.
While EnviroMedia built the site, the team of advisers helped develop the system the Leanwashing Index uses to generate an ad score, with 1 being “authentic” and 5 being “bogus.” When posting or rating an ad, users respond to prompts to five leanwashing criteria, asking if the ad:
- Misleads with words
- Misleads with visuals, imagery or sponsorships
- Makes a health claim that is vague or can’t be proven
- Exaggerates how healthy the product actually is
- Leaves out or masks important information, making the health claim sound better than it is
If an ad is geared to children, the user is guided through a separate set of criteria.
“Few things are worse than trying to manipulate our children. I see marketing’s negative health influence in my own kids and in my patients,” said Dr. Pont. “The Leanwashing Index website will provide a prominent platform for public scrutiny of the misleading and frankly deceptive advertising practices that are hurting our children.”
A 2011 Nielsen Global Survey of more than 25,000 Internet respondents shows that people are skeptical about the accuracy and believability of health claims such as “low fat” and “all natural” found on food packaging. More than two-thirds indicate they believe the nutritional claims are either never or only sometimes trustworthy. The study also showed nearly six in 10 (59 percent) consumers around the world have difficulty understanding nutritional facts on food packaging.
“Advertising of soda and junk food has gone over the top, making claims that are ludicrous! In the midst of the childhood obesity epidemic, ‘truth in advertising’ is more important than ever,” said Goldstein.
Go to www.LeanwashingIndex.com to see which ads and packaging consumers are calling bogus.
EnviroMedia launches the Leanwashing Index as it celebrates “15 Years of Giving a Damn.” Founded in 1997, EnviroMedia is the country’s first marketing firm focused solely on environmental and public health issues. With more than 60 employees, it is headquartered in Austin, Texas, with a West Coast office in Portland, Oregon. EnviroMedia creates effective behavior change campaigns for government, nonprofit and commercial clients.
Melanie Fish, EnviroMedia Social Marketing
Kelli Johnson, EnviroMedia Social Marketing