I am truly a sucker for commercials. Whatever I see, I want, be it a doughnut or the Magic Bullet. The American Dietetic Association tested just that principle to determine the types of diets the average American would have if they consumed only foods advertised during commercials. Sounds delicious, right? But what about nutritious?
84 hours of primetime television was recorded, staggered throughout the week, as well as 12 hours of Saturday morning cartoons and edited to only contain advertisements for food products. Only items that were set for sale were used in the study, not to include any background foods that helped form “part of a complete breakfast”, as some would say. The items were entered into Nutritionist Pro, an analysis program to determine content and nutrient values.
If you were to eat only what foods were advertised on the recorded commercials, and base that on a 2,000 calorie diet, you would find that your new diet had 25 times the recommended servings for sugar, 20 times the recommended servings for fat, and only half of recommended servings for both fruits and vegetables. On the bright side, your new diet did contain the recommended servings of grains, but wait, the fiber content was extremely low, to indicate poor quality content. The TV diet creates an overconsumption of foods that lead to illness, while severely limiting those that fight it.
Solutions, anyone? To begin, food producers should be provided with the education to understand what they are actually selling. They could be partnered with health professionals to help turn the bias away from unhealthy foods in a mutualistic manner. These food markets should be supporting professionals’ claims, and in return, could see an increase in sales and recognition as a supporter of healthier lifestyles. One example stated was that just simply proclaiming that dietary fat was bad didn’t decrease consumption. Once fat-related health claims were partnered with the statements, decreases were seen. This was especially true when those claims were made with specific foods in mind.
Public media can fill community service obligations through the production of more public service announcements and nutrition education segments. And probably the biggest influence of all, government policies, can help increase awareness and regulation. They could establish a minimum on nutritionally sound advertisements aired during primetime hours, while also setting upper limits for unhealthy ads. With the new Dietary Guideline reduction of Sodium, the content of certain advertisements should be changed to fit.
Allowing anyone who can afford air time to display false and unhealthy claims will continue to increase obesity. Put some responsibility on the food manufacturers to identify the healthy quality of their product. If restrictions were set to monitor those claims, more Americans would be probably willing to purchase the better-for-you foods than those without any nutritional content posted.
Source: JADA, Vol 110 #6, pgs 904-910