Sowing Anxiety and Confusion about Food
“Sandwiches are wrecking your diet.” “The sugar you can’t resist is killing you sweetly.” These headlines from consumer media represent an anxious theme easily found in reports about nutrition research. Writing in Appetite, Antonia Dodds and Kerry Chamberlain analyze messaging to consumers about food and conclude that at least some nutrition advice may be sowing anxiety, confusion, and dissatisfaction with food.
Their analysis focuses on one consumer publication in New Zealand, but the pattern is familiar. They find:
- Fear-based messages used to motivate healthy choices
- Fatness and chronic ill health defined as the result of unhealthy choices
- Unhealthy choices portrayed as more enjoyable
- Healthy eating depicted as a simple personal choice
This way of understanding food and eating emphasises physical health and is framed within scientific discourses, but renders eating as joyless, controlled, individualized, confusing and motivated by fear.
Such messaging about food and nutrition is fear mongering, plain and simple. Hyperbolic language around sugar and sweetened beverages is a prime example. Nutrition expert Alan Barclay calls it “food terrorism.” People who make a career by promoting books and research to prove their point eagerly find conflicts of interest everywhere except in their own investment in the business of proving their point.
Fear is not a sound basis for good decision making. Healthy eating must be defined more broadly than theoretical constructs about isolated physical effects of individual components of food.
Truly healthy eating satisfies physical, psychological, social, and cultural needs.
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October 8, 2016