Posts Tagged Weight loss

The curious case of a federal agency battling saturated fat consumption while also selling cheese

This story made me say, I’m sure I’m not stupid. But I’m confused now because you, Uncle Sam, are telling me two very different things. WHAT do you want me to do? Besides blog about you and complain, as more people should do about this …

In “While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales,” the New York Times reported how the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that saturated fat contributes to obesity and heart disease.

But that agency also sells cheeseYes! A Domino’s Pizza campaign associated with this federal agency increased sales of pizzas with six cheeses on the top and two more cheeses in the crust. With this much saturated fat:

According to the NYTimes, a group called Dairy Management affiliated with the Department of Agriculture has a $140 million annual budget to get more cheese on restaurant menus. It has over 160 employees with skills in product development and marketing. Dairy Management helped Domino’s create new pizzas with 40% more cheese and created and paid for a $12 million marketing campaign to sell the Domino’s pizzas. Excuse me, but I thought marketing Domino’s pizza was Domino’s job not the government’s job? At any rate the government did a good job with this — “sales soared by double digits.”

So which — telling or selling — is more effective at influencing behavior? Well … the marketing initiatives of Dairy Management successfully increased cheese sales, and cheese is now the largest source of saturated fat in our diets. Dairy Management had a hand in Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites Pizza, Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich both of which featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and cheesy sauce. This all helped cheese sales grow by 30 million pounds. Dairy Management is also behind the “Got Milk?” campaign which is slowing the decline in milk consumption among children. Granted, the calcium and vitamins can have beneficial effects for children, but this marketing prowess is also used to sell more dairy products to Americans than our health needs.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture distributes brochures like this with nutrition tips. Have you ever seen this brochure? But we’ve all heard of “Got Milk?” and we’re all seeing pizzas with cheese tucked inside the crust in addition to the mounds of cheese on top. If there was anywhere else to squeeze cheese on a pizza, they’d put it there too.

And this in the New York Times story is worrisome:

In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

“Great news for dieters,” Dairy Management said in an advertisement in People magazine in 2005. “Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories.”

Um, those of you familiar with Weight Watchers — the only weight loss program proven by strong research studies to effectively change long-term behavior affecting weight — know that recommendation doesn’t work with the WW point system unless you’re willing to be very very hungry.

And consider this:

Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former member of the federal government’s nutrition advisory committee, said: “… A small amount of good-flavored cheese can be compatible with a healthy diet, but consumption in the U.S. is enormous and way beyond what is optimally healthy.”

Does our country’s obesity problem really need help to keep it growing? See it grow here:

Now I don’t have a personal problem with eating cheese. We once went to Madison, Wisconsin just to stock up at Fromagination. If you got between me and the last piece of chevre on earth, I would beat you up to get it. I wouldn’t care how big you are. It’s chevre! (OK maybe I do have a personal problem with cheese but it’s certainly not against cheese)

I have a problem with government institutions influencing behavior that adversely affects public health. We already have plenty in the private sector who have enough motivation and means to do that on their own.

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Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 2)

In Part 1, I noted that in public health we often do something that I’ve been guilty of doing too:

  • We tell people not to do things they want to do.
  • We tell people to do things they don’t want to do.

And then we expect people to “do the right thing” or “make the right choice” “for their own good.”  Then we’re surprised when things don’t change. Or we rely on satisfaction evaluation surveys — that people answered very nicely — to try to show that we made a difference.

Well, what if someone tried to sell something to you that:

  • May increase your appetite even though you want it to help you lose weight
  • Has zero nutritional value
  • May leech calcium from your bones
  • Has acidity level that can attack your teeth

Would you want to consume that? Millions of people do every day. And they pay for the privilege of doing this. In diet sodas (or pop, cola). More about drinks marketed as “healthy.”

Now set aside for a moment the fact that this could be bad for you, while in public health we try to sell the good for you. The point is, marketers are turning something that we wouldn’t want to buy and drink — when you think about what you are really drinking — into something that millions of people do want to buy and drink.

They don’t sell what the product actually is. They sell how it can make you feel. And, furthermore, they tell you what you will feel. And they choose feelings that people may want to feel: full of energy, fun, cool, fashionable, attractive, at the top of their game:

See lots of people having good times, living good lives in a lot of ways. And while drinking … what?

What they are actually selling, packaged in those cans and bottles, people would not want to buy.

Now, I understand if this example isn’t the most ideal example, because in public health we sell well-being. So how about looking at water? We would be in favor of drinking water, right? Can we imagine any scenario where people would not want cool, refreshing water? And most importantly, life-sustaining water because we cannot live for many days without it?

But what if water cost 10,000 times more than we’re used to paying for it? And most of the time, with no extra health benefit for this extra cost?  What if over 1.5 million barrels of oil were required each year to deliver water to our country? Would we want that cost? For those of us living near the Great Lakes, why import water from the other side of the planet? The well in my yard taps into an aquifer; why do I need water from anywhere else? Plus plastic production and plastic waste from 7 billion gallons each year? Are we OK with that cost?

As you can guess what’s coming, we already do pay 10,000 times more for water. We happily buy bottled water instead of turning on the tap. Why do we do this?

Youth. Purity.

And people are sold on the beauty and allure of water from Fiji. This poster even sells the green angle, when the manufacture and delivery for this industry is far from green.

So what does this mean for public health, and what we want people to “buy”? What can we do? More of this series coming soon …

Related posts:

Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 1)

Melinda Gates wonders about learning from Coca-Cola for social change too

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Huh? An alpaca can help you lose weight?

So we can learn something about behavior and weight loss from this guy? (or gal, hard to tell from the hairdo) Something beyond burning lots of calories climbing up all that way?

Well, we already know from The Dog Whisperer that dogs are most content when they’re balanced. Apparently some think this might be true for all animals — dogs, cats, alpacas, and humans.

So this animal handler, Marty McGee Bennett, who works with alpacas and llamas found that she learned something about maintaining a healthy weight from animal behavior. She discovered that some principles that helped the animals lead a more balanced and happy life might also help humans. She describes how she spent a lifetime as a yo-yo dieter, jumping back and forth from manic dieting to depression over her weight. Then she learned from her animals how to get herself into balance. She then maintained a healthy weight over time, and wrote about this in a book.

Just like an animal doesn’t change behavior overnight — it takes consistent attention and the right feedback and incentives — as we well know, human behavior won’t change overnight either. So we shouldn’t give up when we don’t stick to a new plan every day. Forcing animals or humans to do new behaviors doesn’t work if you want lasting change. So maybe we should be just as patient and balanced about ourselves as we are when teaching our dogs and cats new tricks and behaviors.


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