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Monday, January 10, 2005

Marketing Health 

Most kids will tell you: healthy food doesn't taste good. Why? Because years and years of marketing have convinced them (and us) so. Playing off of evolutionary designs left over from before the agricultural revolution (and certainly before super-market culture), marketers and producers have bred us to crave high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat foods with little to no nutritional value, because it's cheap to produce and we're likely to consume it in ever-increasing quantities (to sustain the sugar rush, and because with no nutrition, it's hard to feel satiated). The result: our galloping (or, more accurately, lounging) obesity epidemic.

Now the news media has latched on to this, along with whatever fad diet is big this week (Atkins? South Beach? Graham Cracker?), and the public has begun to demand healthier food. Or at least to demand its junk be made to look healthy. This is precisely what's happening. The Washington Post today writes about new initiatives by food makers to market 'healthier' foods - by adding vitamins, "whole grains" (whatever that means), etc. to products. Some have also cut out trans-fats, but that's likely got more to do with the fact that they now have to list those on labels than anything else.

There is so much to say about the material in this article. Where to start??

As the author points out, just because you add calcium to chocolate syrup does not change the fact that you have, well, chocolate syrup. And cutting "sugar" only to replace it with "other carbohydrates" (aka, in scientific terms, sugar) without reducing calories is just ... ... brilliant marketing.

Packaging snack foods in 100 calorie pouches is the only sort-of good idea in the whole lot. Problem is, they're charging twice as much as for the stuff that comes in regular boxes (at least at my store).
"...milk sales have soared since the chains replaced the staid and often hard-to-open cartons with snazzy plastic bottles..."
Whuh?? As a child with major ADD and poor small motor skills, I never had any trouble opening milk cartons. Ever. I just didn't like milk, because soda was so much ... fizzier. When I was a kid it was a big deal that all my juiceboxes contained "real juice" and that I ate cheese, not "cheeze product." Now they're selling "milk-based, canned" beverages to kids at school. This could be worse than kool-aid.

The most sensible thing in the whole bit is a dietician who says: "We're doing a disservice to kids, to make them think anything they eat or drink needs to be sweet." Damn right. That's why we have so many fat kids in this country. Because they're taught from day one that sweet=fun=for kids and not sweet=boring=old. And don't get me started on artificial sweeteners. But, like I said, crap is cheaper to produce and sell than healthy stuff. And Commerce is the God of America.

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