(Let me better explain that last post.)
I've come to a new understanding about my paper topic. The more I thought about doing a global case study of Cheerios, the less I liked it. After some research, I saw that most of the nutritional labels are all the same. There are some minor differences, but nothing that I felt would lead me to conclusions to make the 60 pages worthwhile. So I've moved on.
Here's the gist of my new approach:
There is a conundrum going on in America today. Obesity rates are rising, while awareness about the right nutrition. At the same time, supermarket shelves are being filled with more and more food products that call themselves healthy or have a health claim regarding their nutritional benefits. (I need facts for this, hence my previous post with statistics galore.)
What accounts for this contradiction? Would more health foods and greater health consciousness mean a thinner America? The answer is in the presentation, how food options are being presented to American consumers and how they are marketed. Positives are highlighted, while negatives are downplayed or even ignored. These claims aim to have consumers "buy more," which turns into "eat more." And eating too much is a sure way to being overweight, no matter how much healthy food you eat.
The nutritional information pane, typically on the side or back panel, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the true contents of a food product must be openly and accurately reported and its nutritional value exposed. This panel is regulated by the government, attempting to give consumers an unadulterated and official look into what they are eating.
But in truth, the accuracy of the nutritional panel is subject to FDA and USDA oversight, governmental agencies which themselves are influenced by the lobbying efforts of the food industry. Political pressures seep into the decisions made regarding food policy and help direct regulations in favor of the major food companies. Basically, the FDA's teeth have lost their edge. (I'll be quoting Marion Nestle's Food Politics extensively.)
Food companies have taken advantage of this less-than-strict oversight and began marketing their products with health claims that are supported by less-than-substantial scientific findings. The academic and research community, themselves hungry for funding and exposure, can be influenced by the deep pockets of the food conglomerates and develop studies designed to back health claims driven by financial objectives. Think about ll the studies that said cigarettes have not been linked to cancer. Yeah f&*king right.
What this weak science does is create confusion in consumer's minds about what constitutes healthy food. A notorious example is Frosted Flakes, which qualified as a Smart Choice product (before that program was nixed under influence by the FDA). According to the program criteria, Frosted Flaked qualified because it is low in fat and cholesterol, even though it is mostly sugar. Of course it's low in cholesterol, as that only comes from animal products, including milk.
Consumers are left to evaluate the information and decipher the front panel claims versus the back panel information for themselves. Confusion between the two benefit's the food industry, allowing them to issue weak science as proof. More than that, nutrition is broken down into single nutrient benefits. Eat more fiber and you won't get colon cancer. Eat less cholesterol and you won't have a heart attack. More vitamin A for a healthy immune system, and so on.
This study seeks to understand the difference between the front and the back info, to breakdown the divide between how these products are represented on the front versus the back. I'm not sure how to go about this, but I am thinking of taking 1 category (breakfast cereals) and breaking down the products by nutrition and seeing where they net out on the health scale. I could also take a few products from multiple categories, but I'm not sure yet.
From the reading I've done, the key is not eating more healthy food, but eating less overall. The pattern of your diet is what matters, less than the nutritional content of each item.
One thing to note: the food industry is not evil. It is filled with people who are just trying to make a living and wish no harm on Anyone else. These claims do not have sinister intentions. I have been a part of many of these campaigns, including the Post Diet which Marion Nestle did not appreciate. But everyone in the industry is under pressure to perform, including me. The problem lies with the system, allowing business and financial pressures to dictate nutritional goals. I'd say the same is true with medical insurance. Capitalism has run amok.
That's where I am! thoughts are welcome.