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Saturday, March 19, 2011

If you can't beat'em demonize'em

If you can’t beat em’ demonize em
Perhaps it is only urban legend but I have heard that Coca Cola executives believe if they were to suspend advertising for one week the company would go out of business. True or not this statement alludes to the power of advertising. To get a product in front of a mass audience and entice them to follow through to make a purchase is as much art as science and to be sure it is big business.

Coca Cola has had some great jingles through the years. Just a few bars of “I’d like to teach the world to sing” from the early seventies and instantly Coke comes to mind. That ad and countless others like it speak to the power of advertising. It is no wonder that companies pour billions into marketing their products. To most the art and science of advertising is a natural exercise in capitalism. Since companies exist to make profits this makes sense. However many in public health consider this to be a weapon of mass destruction wielded by the enemy.

No doubt most in public health from dietitians to doctors have the best of intentions. At heart their advice is aimed at helping others be as healthy as possible. While I have no issue with their goals their methods to reach those goals often leave me scratching my head. When those methods are scrutinized and described the left leaning stripes of the public health establishment are revealed. According to what I read from a considerable number in public health it isn’t enough to peacefully coexist with big food companies in the marketplace of ideas. Rather than compete the public health establishment often seems to want to demonize and destroy big unhealthy food producing companies.

One example often cited by those in public health is breakfast cereal. They insist that cereal makers such as Kellogg and Post because of their deep advertising pockets have an unfair advantage. This advantage they claim is used to push unhealthy sugar laden cereals on children packaged in colorful boxes with cartoon characters. Furthermore they rant grocery stores are complicit in the conspiracy because the colorful unhealthy cereal boxes are placed on lower shelves in plain view of the unsuspecting, uneducated children. Their conclusion is children void of the high and lofty knowledge of what they really need to be healthy nag their parent into buying the unhealthy breakfast cereal. So the mean old food companies with those deep pockets lure children in and get them hooked on an unhealthy diet from a young age and that per the public health elitists is the wrong.

So rather than allow free people to make choices public healthists look to the government to level the playing field through higher taxes on unhealthy foods, laws restricting certain foods served in schools and out right banning some foods they just don’t like. In other words since public funds to promote healthy diets is dwarfed by the likes of well financed Kellogg and Coca Cola they resort to using the talons of government regulation to make things fair. In a country founded on the principle of freedom this is what is unfair.

The same mindset and tactic is used against Coca Cola, Pepsi and any other soft drink maker or food producer the public health types deem unhealthy. With their tax, ban and regulate mentality they seek to bring down these giants of industry on the basis that they because of their success wage an unfair war. In truth those who see themselves doing the pure work of protecting public health couldn’t compete on the same playing field as these companies. The reason is simply that they don’t know the rules.

We the public when faced with making a food or beverage choice make that choice based on how food tastes. Though there are exceptions taste is the main reason we choose one food over another. Issues of healthy choice have an influence but the way a food tastes is the determining factor. Public health types want to pretend that all food choices should be made on the basis of health. If a food is too high in fat or sugar or cholesterol we should nobly omit it as a choice. It is not that simple.

What we do as a free people is influenced by attitudes and values. If one appreciates the taste of a plate of French fries and eating them will not contradict their values then that person will have no qualms about enjoying every last fry. What the public health establishment seeks to do is impose their attitudes and values on the rest of us from their high moral health perch. Yet when we talk about other moral issues we are told “you can’t legislate morality”. I guess what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Moreover health is a deeply personal decision. Some value it highly while others are content to let the potato chips fall where they may. Given as a truth some drink sugar laden sodas while others do not. Some parents give their children sugary breakfast cereal and others do not. Who can dictate what is right or wrong on such personal matters.

At the end of the day big food and drink companies can spend all they want on advertising but the decision to purchase their product is ours to make. The encouragement to eat healthy from those in public health is also a message we can take to heart or ignore. What we eat and how healthy we are and will be is up to you and me.

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