Posts Tagged by food advertising

Cut Back the Sugar

If you live in RI, you might have have noticed the subtle new health campaign that was launched by the Rhode Island Department of Health on Monday.

cut back the sugar_bus

I know – who am I kidding? You can’t really miss these Mountain Dew colored buses. Just for a fun comparison, here is what the RIPTA buses normally look like:


If the huge spoonful of sugar on the side of the bus doesn’t make a statement, the lime green color certainly will.

The new campaign, which will run for 3 months, is aimed at raising awareness in parents of young children. But even though sugar sweetened beverages like soda are devoid of any nutritional value and have been linked to overweight and obesity, particularly in children (sources here and here), the campaign isn’t asking people to give them up altogether. Instead, the main message is to simply “cut back the sugar, one drink at a time.” Which, in my opinion, is at least a start.

For more information about sugar-sweetened beverages and Rhode Island’s campaign, please click here.

spoonfulofsugar_RIssb.jpgYou wouldn’t let your kids eat this much sugar. So why let them drink it?

I am not a soda drinker, and I don’t really like soda companies (I have other vices when it comes to sugar. Particularly when it’s combined with butter and chcolate). I’ve written my thoughts about soda and the way soda companies weasel advertise their way into our everyday lives before, and if anything, my feelings have only grown more negative since then.

I get that soda tastes good. And that lemonade is refreshing. And that you might actually need Gatorade to keep you hydrated/fueled during a long, hot run. But do kids really need to drink this stuff? There’s a big difference between 100% juice and a Capri Sun – which contains a lot of sugar. In an age of over-stimulation, do children really need another substance to make it worse?

I know what you may be thinking – I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent. And maybe if I was one, I wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with giving my children these drinks. Maybe.

But the point is that I don’t think people (myself included) often realize just how much sugar they’re drinking. It’s easy to guess with soda. We all know it isn’t good for us. But juice and other flavored drinks? Sometimes it’s deceptive.

arizona iced you know a 24 oz can has 72 grams of sugar – and 270 calories, all from sugar?


Which is why I think that a campaign that raises awareness about these sugary drinks is important. And compared to the very graphic “Pouring on the Pounds” campaign launched in New York City a couple of years ago, these ads seem kind of tame.


In case you haven’t seen the NYC ads before, they basically show fat being poured from drink containers into glasses. Some ads I’ve seen have gone so far as to show a person actually drinking the disgusting fat globs. You can watch that lovely display here. It definitely leaves an impression. But is it believable?

I work in the field of public health. I’m bombarded on a daily basis with these types of messages. I know the risk factors for obesity and other chronic conditions like diabetes. And I know that the situation in this country is pretty serious.

So I’m biased. I like seeing things like this because the message is ingrained in me. In fact, I would actually like it if the ads went further. But I know not everyone feels the same. And the majority of people probably don’t think that a bus with a huge spoonful of sugar on the side is all that exciting. It’s okay – I know I’m a public health nerd.

cut back the sugar_bus2

Which is why I really want to know what you think of the advertisements and the campaign’s overall message. Like? Dislike? Do you think it could be effective? Or does it not really leave a lasting impression? Thoughts about how useful something like this is? Please share!

Got PMS? Drink Milk! (or not)

I’m not sure where I was at the time, but apparently last month the California Milk Processor Board launched a new ad campaign (along with a corresponding website) that has gotten everyone talking. I only learned about it after they took the website down and started responding to the criticsism. Typical.

But on the off-chance that you also don’t know what I’m referring to, let me enlighten you.

Based on a study that found milk can reduce the symptoms of PMS (more on that in a minute), the campaign features some concerned and nervous-looking men with cartons of milk – apparently in a desperate attempt to calm the hormone-crazy, raging women in their lives.

Here are a few of them. What do you think?




These ads went along with a website: That site, which has now been taken down and replaced with, was a guide for poor men all over the world who find themselves victims of PMS. It had “Global PMS Level” readings, an emergency milk locator, and a “mistake verification system” where you could type in what you think you did wrong….and I’m assuming it spit back an extremely witty, yes everything you do is wrong, type of answer.


For more information on the campaign and why it was pulled, try here or here.

Now when you type that address into your browser, it redirects to a new “Got Discussion” site, where the Milk Board pulls in articles that both support and speak out against the campaign. Pretty genius, really. Because even though their campaign apparently wasn’t all that successful, they can now keep the discussion going about it, and keep getting publicity. When you’re trying to sell something, any press is good press, right?

Anyway, before I start babbling on about the campaign myself, I really want to know what you all think! Is the campaign sexist and stupid? …or just stupid? Or do you find it really funny? I know a lot of my readers are female – are you females offended by this? And for any males who might be reading this, what do you think?? (don’t be afraid to speak your mind – I promise there will be no PMS-induced wrath coming from this woman).

Just quickly – before I turn the discussion over to you, the one thing that I do want to touch on is the studies. The campaign references 2 studies – one from 1998 (yes, 13 years ago) that claims that deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D can contribute to the symptoms of PMS (women have lower levels of calcium during their menstrual cycle and taking calcium supplements can help relieve some of the symptoms). The second study is from 2005, and basically claims that calcium can reduce the symptoms of PMS.

I don’t want to bore you with details about how these studies were conducted, etc, but I just want to say – you can find studies to support anything. Really, you can. And if you read these two, you’ll see it’s not just milk that helps (but it’s also obvious why the Milk Board has chosen to focus on milk alone). So just be careful how you interpret things, and don’t believe everything you read. (Yes, I know…this is common sense, but it can’t hurt to have a reminder).

And in case you don’t want to comment but still want to weigh in, here’s a poll!

What do you think?


The False Promise of Fast Food

Cheap. Convenient. Perfect for the family ontherun. For years, fast food companies have promoted themselves to be everything that Americans need (and then some!). And now, they even appear to be offering “healthy” options, to cater to all those consumers who are concerned about their health while onetherun.

But, as you critical HOTR readers know, when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fast food companies are in the business of making a profit, not improving our health. A recent New York Times article by Mark Bittman clearly shows how they’ve even managed to mess up the most iconic wholesome breakfast you can think of: oatmeal.

fruit-and-maple-oatmeal.png“It’s a bowl full of wholesome” ~ McDonald’s Website


The article, How to Make Oatmeal…Wrong is, in a word, awesome. If you haven’t read it already, I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and read it now. (No, really, click away from the blog and read it. I’ll still be here when you get back.) Bittman is funny and insightful. A few highlights:

A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”


Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

Moral of the story – fast food is not healthy. Period. And it’s not always that much more convenient either. I probably don’t need to tell you that making oatmeal at home is incredibly simple. You can do it all in one bowl/mug in the microwave if you don’t feel like dirtying a pot on the stove. Companies like McDonald’s have falsely led us to believe that they can make us food that’s better, faster and cheaper than we can ourselves. But it’s all just advertising.

Still need convincing? Here are a few facts about the fast food industry’s advertising antics. All are taken directly from Fast Food F.A.C.T.S., a site that aims to “reveal the marketing techniques aimed at children and the nutritional quality of fast foods.”

On the huge dollar amounts fast food companies spend marketing their products:

  • They spent more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2009 on TV advertising and other media.
  • Although McDonald’s and Burger King have pledged to improve food marketing to children, they increased their volume of TV advertising from 2007 to 2009. Preschoolers saw 21% more ads for McDonald’s and 9% more for Burger King, and children viewed 26% more ads for McDonald’s and 10% more for Burger King.
  • Even though McDonald’s and Burger King only showed their “better-for-you” foods in child-targeted marketing, their ads did not encourage consumption of these healthier choices. Instead, child-targeted ads focused on toy giveaways and building brand loyalty.

On fast food companies and web marketing:

  • McDonald’s 13 websites got 365,000 unique child visitors and 294,000 unique teen visitors on average each month in 2009.

On targeting teen and ethnic minority youth:

  • Hispanic preschoolers saw 290 Spanish-language fast food TV ads in 2009 and McDonald’s was responsible for one-quarter of young people’s exposure to Spanish-language fast food advertising.
  • African American children and teens saw at least 50% more fast food ads on TV in 2009 than their white peers. That translated into twice the number of fast food calories viewed daily compared to white children.

Don’t let the “healthy” options fool you:

  • Just 12 of 3,039 possible kids’ meal combinations met nutrition criteria for preschoolers; 15 met nutrition criteria for older children.
  • At most restaurants, young people purchased at least half of their maximum daily recommended sodium intake in just one fast food meal.
  • The average kids’ meal has 616 calories, which is too many for most young children

For more “fun” fast food fact, visit

I know people are busy, and the economy is awful. After a long day at work, it can be tempting to pull up to your nearest drive-thru and get dinner for your family that’s ready in little time, for little money. It might get you out of a bind in the moment, but please don’t believe that fast food is healthy. And honestly, eating it over the long run will ultimately do more damage to your health than buying fresh fruits and vegetables will do to your wallet.

The Day the Laptop Died

Hello HOTR-Readers! Just a quick post tonight to make a not-so-great announcement.

Sunday night, my trusty ancient, crappy old laptop that I’ve been using to blog all these months suddenly died on me. This is the second time it’s happened within the past few months, and this time it looks like it’s for good.

What this means for the blog is that all blogging-related activities have been temporarily suspended. It’s pretty hard to write posts on my phone and though I’m thankful to have that feature, it’s not realistic to think I can continue to post from it on a regular basis. I’m not sure how long this hiatus will last. I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to do next (read: waiting for a pot of money to fall from the sky so that I can afford a new computer), so it may only be a week…or it may be longer. There’s a chance that I’ll be able to post occasionally from another computer while I’m working out a resolution, but there’s no guarantee. So at this point, I think it’s safest to say I won’t be blogging.

Of course, this also means that I am extremely happy to accept guest posts during this break (*cough* Mom *cough*). So if any of you have the gumption to write a guest post for HOTR, please let me know! I’d be extremely grateful and can have my trusty assistant (read: EC) get them online for ya.

Finally, because I don’t want to leave you without anything interesting or useful to read, here is a link to a great post by Marion Nestle on her blog Food Politics (if you aren’t already reading this blog, I highly recommend it!).

FTC says no to POM Wonderful advertising claims

The article is in regards to the controversy currently surrounding POM Wonderful‘s not-so-wonderfully-honest health claims. If you haven’t heard about this, the FTC has issued a complaint against Pom Wonderful, saying that the drink’s claims to do things such as reduce the risk of heart disease and prostate cancer are false and unsubstantiated. Now POM is fighting back and suing the FTC, basically saying that these claims are protected by their first amendment rights, and that they have research that “proves” the power of these antioxidants.

What Marion Nestle’s post does is serve as a great reminder for us consumers to be wary of the truth behind all this “research” by companies to prove the benefits of their products. The design of a research study is extremely important, and it can be manipulated to give the researchers the results they’re looking for. So when you read health claims from companies that seem too good to be true (and yes, even healthy food companies make them — it is all about marketing their product and making a profit, after all!!), take a step back and try to read between the lines. Chances are, there’s a lot more to the claims than meets the eye.

And with that, I’m out! Keeping my fingers crossed I’ll be back sooner rather than later.

How Do You Keep Yourself Healthy?

First of all, I want to thank those of you who commented for your thoughtful replies to my last post. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on this issue. If you haven’t read through the comments, I encourage you to do so! There are some really interesting points that are raised! And of course, please feel free to add in your own two-cents.

Ultimately, it seems as though people have more of an issue with PepsiCo funding research than the company giving money back to the community. And I agree – this definitely doesn’t seem like a recipe for good science. But at the same time, it can’t be denied that all of these campaigns (even if they appear to do good) are really just clever marketing for Pepsi. To quote Danielle:

If Pepsi really wanted to make the world a better place, then they would

1. Take HFCS and all the other crap out of their sodas
2. Replace the aspartame in their diet sodas with something that…idk…doesn’t cause cancer??

And I agree. Lately the public health world has been cracking down hard on sugar sweetened beverages (especially soda!), and no matter how much good these programs may be doing, it can’t be denied that these are really clever attempts to keep the company looking good.

So now you’ve all been given a little glimpse into my nerdy mind. These are the things I think about, and rant about discuss with EC (who usually doesn’t agree with everything I say – go figure). I love being able to have these discussions on the blog…and you’ve given me ideas for future posts {exciting for me…and your cue to run away and never come back…?? 😉}

Anyway, to balance out my last novel of a post, tonight I leave you with something short and sweet. A simple question:

How do you keep yourself healthy?

healthy_apple I was recently at a meeting with a group of professionals from various health-related organizations. In addition to our name, etc, the facilitator asked us each to share what we did to keep ourselves healthy. As we went around the table, I noticed something interesting about everyone’s responses. Naturally, my first thought was whether the same thing would happen in the blog-world.  So, I thought it might be fun to conduct a little experiment with all you readers who are clearly very interested in health!

I would love it if you’d just take a moment to share how you keep yourself healthy in the comments section – your response can be as short or as long as you like! I promise there’s no strange catch or anything here – I’m just curious to see what you all say.

I’ll talk more about this more in my next post, and of course, let you know my answer to the question.

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