How Manufacturers Get You to Buy Their Junk

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Any person who has stepped into a grocery store has been swayed by an advertisement.  The big words that pop out on a product lead the consumer to purchase the product without actually knowing or understanding its true nutritional value. Now, two authors who are experts on nutrition have published an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) asking for a ban on nutrition labels and health claims printed on the front of food packages.

Written by NYU professor Marion Nestle and Harvard University’s School of Public Health professor, David Ludwig, the editorial is called Front-of-Package Food Labels Public Health or Propaganda? download PDF The paper makes 5 very simple but true explanations of why Americans purchase the way the do based off of advertisement claims.

  • Health claims cannot be easily verified.  The public sees a product displayed with the words ‘Supports Immunity.’  We assume the statement must be true as it is found on a label that is approved by a governmental health agency.
  • Claims about specific positive nutritional benefits are misleading.  The Smart Choices program introduced in 2009 was ended 5 months later.  The guidelines of the Smart Choices program allowed a product, such as cereal, to be “fortified with vitamins and minerals” but also contain sugar as one of the main ingredients.
  • Singling out a specific nutrient is misleading.  A soda contains less fat than nuts.  Does this mean soda is healthier?
  • “Healthier” is not necessarily healthy. A junk food labeled as “Now with less sugar” is still junk food.
  • Inherent conflict of interest.  Companies involved in the Smart Choices program approved by the FDA in 2009 supported the notion that educating the public of healthier choices was important, yet selling more cereal boxes was the ultimate intention.

So what can we do to avoid the propaganda and stick with a healthier approach?  The low carbohydrate approach is a great strategy, focusing on a protein based diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.  In fact, shopping around the perimeter of the store is where most of these foods are based. Produce and deli meats from the counter are not the foods sporting the advertisements.  Unpackaged foods are not carbohydrate based foods, and are usually the more healthy options.   The advertisements are placed directly in the center aisles, where all the carbohydrates are located!

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Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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March 11, 2010 12:01 pm

Perimeter shopping is probably the best approach. If you do need to go into the isles, the products on the top and bottom shelves tend to be better than the stuff placed at your eye level. Charging the manufacturers a premium for product placement is another way the stores make money.

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