January 20, 2013 by jaherber
“Wow”, is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the D.C. trip. The wealth of information that was presented to us in such a condensed amount of time was somewhat overwhelming. There are a multitude of topics that I could discuss in this blog; however, I will stick with the topics/themes that most grabbed my attention and elaborate on why.
Is the food industry friend or foe?
As discussed at the seminar, I agree that this is not a simple black and white issue. Plenty of gray area definitely exists. I also agree that we should look at the food industry as an entity that we could learn to work with and utilize their marketing techniques to our advantage. However, I’m not naïve enough to think that we (future and current health professionals) have the upper hand. It is the exact opposite. As many of us are aware, with money come power and the luxury of being two steps ahead. For example, I found it interesting that Beyonce was chosen as a celebrity spokesperson for the Let’s Move Initiative and now Pepsi has decided to offer her a $50 million deal which she accepted (of course). Is this a coincidence? Probably not! I believe this is a strategic move on Pepsi’s part. Beyonce was chosen by the Let’s Move camp most likely due to the fact that she is seen as a positive role model in the African American community, especially amongst children. Sodas are without a doubt marketed to the low income population, because of the high consumption rate amongst this group. Therefore, the Let’s Move camp and Pepsi chose Beyonce for similar reasons…awareness or in Pepsi’s case, sales. This fact may or may not hinder the Let’s Move Initiative, but it certainly doesn’t help that their spokesperson is both advocating against and promoting one of the things contributing to childhood obesity. Can you say conflict of interest? It will be interesting to see how they decide to move forward.
Education may not lead to behavior change
This point came up during our trip and has been a common theme throughout our MPH program. My thought on this is “why”? Could it be because the message isn’t framed in a way that is relevant to the person’s life? Is it presented in a way that comes off as judgmental and causes them to feel shame and become defensive? My point is that we have to be mindful of how we relay the message and our tendency to right off the lack of behavior change to the perceived notion that they don’t care. Like one of the speakers noted, low income families ARE interested in healthy foods but there are other barriers that affect change. Think about their environment, think about what they understand and how they interpret the message we send out. We assume that our message is clear, feasible, and applies to the masses. You have to ask the right questions to get the answers you need in order to truly help. Maybe it’s a lack of access or maybe your recommendation isn’t truly individualized. A one size fits all recommendation doesn’t work in this field. I’m not saying anything that is novel, we have heard this before. However, it seems like some health practitioners default to the idea that consumers/clients/patients don’t care when a health behavior change isn’t observed. Moreover, as health professionals, we sometimes unintentionally or intentionally push our own values and beliefs onto others. This leads me to my thoughts on the discussion we had regarding fresh vs. frozen vs. canned fruits and vegetables. I agree with the stance that we should promote fresh due to it being the healthiest, most nutrient dense choice; however, if the person I’m counseling can’t afford or lacks access to fresh, I would be willing to advocate for the next best choice which is frozen or canned as opposed to other processed foods they may typically consume. We have to celebrate and be appreciative of the small changes that people are able to make instead of turning up our nose at the less than ideal choice. It was stated that we should “think of the whole person…….think beyond nutrition.” I couldn’t agree with this more.
With all that being said, policy changes are needed in order for us to move in the right direction. The fact that current food consumption data is used to develop the serving sizes of foods is unbelievable! How are we, as a nation, supposed to make a positive impact on the obesity epidemic if serving sizes not only don’t reflect actual recommendations, but increase as we eat more? It seems as though we are our own worst enemy.
The D.C. trip has really opened my eyes to the fact there is an overwhelmingly amount of change that is needed at both the policy level and on the ground. We all know that it isn’t easy to affect change through the former. That means it’s up to us to change our approaches by truly tailoring the messages to what is feasible for individuals and continue to inform them on their options of how it can be done; maybe even take notes from the food industry, because there is much to be learned from them.