Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two communication strategies for reducing sugary drinks

First, I like the plain matter-of-fact tone of the federal government's MyPlate graphic. It paints a pleasant portrait of a healthy meal, and then underlines several key messages for consumers by stating them in blunt English.  One of the key recommendations is to "drink water instead of sugary drinks."

A reasonable person may add that one should drink water instead of sugary drinks most of the time, but the mainstream message of the dietary guidelines reflects the best judgement of scientists in this field.

Balancing Calories
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less. 
  • Avoid oversized portions. 
Foods to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. 
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains. 
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. 
Foods to Reduce
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers. 
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks. 
Second, in a new video from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), public health marketers seek to both imitate and expose the emotive power of soda advertisements.  In the video, a family of polar bears endures the harsh effects of diabetes and learns that the soda advertisements offer only a false promise of happiness.  The video strays close to playing on guilt themes as motivation for healthy behaviors, but the polar bears are fundamentally sympathetic, and they take charge of their own lives in the nice ending. 

If you dislike the video's harsh imagery, I'd be interested to hear about it.  But I do think the beverage association spokesperson's rebuttal -- in a USA Today article -- rings false:
But ABA spokeswoman Karen Hanretty says, "CSPI is better at producing videos than they are doing math. People are drinking fewer calories from soda -- and have been for a decade -- so how can soda be to blame for rising obesity?" 
The basic message that it is better to limit sugary drinks is well-established and denying this with misleading trend statistics just makes the video look like the more serious party in this conversation.

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