Last week Time Magazine ran a cover story titled: “What to Eat Now—Uncovering the Myths about Food” by health guru Dr. Oz. In the article Oz adeptly highlights the importance of variety, moderation, and whole foods in the diet; critiques of a number of fad diets; points to the unjustified demonization of certain foods; and gives a sympathetic nod to the confusion of consumers.
One of the graphics in the article references the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a chart titled: “A Brief History of Dietary Guidelines: No wonder we’re hungry for clarity.” Since the 1940s the USDA has been releasing dietary recommendations that have been changing as new nutrition research findings emerge, but also as consumer behavior changes. In the forties it was the “basic seven” food groups, in the nineties the food pyramid, and today we have “MyPlate,” which focuses more on portions.
Oz also goes through a number of diet fads that have added to the confusion: fat-free, cabbage soup, grapefruit, and more recently, the Atkins diet. Oz writes:
“Atkins … became a cultural phenomenon after the Times breathed new life into it. Market forces fed the craze, with menus reformulated to remove the last delectable carbohydrate molecule and carb-free labels slapped on foods that never contained them in the first place.”
Ironically, in the last paragraph of the article, Dr. Oz makes this statement:
“No one pretends that achieving and maintaining an ideal weight is an easy thing to do.”
That’s just it: Sure, consumers are confused by the changing nutritional guidelines; but the narrative that pervades the media landscape is indeed one that tells us that achieving an ideal weight is an easy thing to do. In his own words:
“The popular landscape is strewn with weight-loss crazes … leaving consumers disappointed, frustrated, and no healthier than they were before.”
How has our understanding of healthy living been shaped by the language of advertising and marketing? The very reason these fads and myths persist is probably because quite a few of us do indeed believe, hope, or maybe just pretend that our desired health outcome, our dream body or ideal weight, is just a super-food, a pill, or a diet book away.