A Park at Night

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

They conclude:

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.

Pure, White, and DeadlySuch 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.

Click here for the study by Dodds and Chamberlain. Click here for a classic, cross-cultural examination of food and life.

A Park at Night, Pastel by Jozsef Rippl-Ronai / WikiArt

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October 8, 2016

2 Responses to “Sowing Anxiety and Confusion about Food”

  1. October 08, 2016 at 2:18 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – food is good and essential.

  2. October 10, 2016 at 9:01 am, Marcy B said:

    Sometimes I think a healthy shock/ scare is necessary to kick start healthy thinking/lifestyle. I wholeheartedly agree that some people react differently to these scare tactics. I once worked with a physician who would tell anyone who came to his office that if they continued to smoke they were going to die. (Most were there from asthma or COPD exacerbations. He was a Pulmonologist. It’s his job to tell you that. I had patient’s say they wanted to choke him or kill him because of being told this. Some people would come out of the room crying. I now work in a Bariatric Surgery office. And some people can’t bear to hear they’re going to die in 10 years if they don’t do something about there weight. Other’s can. Kid gloves and knowing your patients before you speak to them in such a manner. There are different approaches to changing someone’s life.