Health Reform Rapid Response:
the conversation on prevention
How do we expand the focus on “individual choice” to acknowledge that industry practices shape our environment and constrain our options?
A new study in Pediatrics (subscription required) demonstrates that industry practices determine which options are available to us, and also shape the discourse on public health solutions. The study found that TV media were more likely than newspapers to focus on individual lifestyle choices, rather than system-level policy changes, as solutions to unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity in children. Researchers posited TV media’s dependence on advertising revenue as a possible explanation. When large corporations have nearly limitless advertising budgets to shape the public discourse, the deck is unfairly stacked against families, parents, and all of us.
- A New Yorker piece from last month, “Snacks for a Fat Planet” (subscription required), explores PepsiCo’s efforts to research and produce “healthy” snack foods. PepsiCo’s CEO “thinks that sedentary life styles, not energy-dense processed foods are the culprit” of the obesity epidemic and simply “doesn’t see the point in blaming food companies.”
- The Chicago Tribune interviews PepsiCo’s chief science officer in “Dr. Mehmood Khan taking on the PepsiCo nutritional challenge.” Dr. Khan emphasizes individual responsibility, claiming that “[a] healthy lifestyle…is all about balance. That means there are no ‘bad’ foods,” neatly sidestepping Pepsi’s role in promoting unhealthy snack food consumption and in defining what choices are available.
- Human Events criticizes proposed voluntary nutritional guidelines in “Obama’s Food Police in Staggering Crackdown on Market to Kids.” The proposal would disallow advertisements to children for products that do not meet the guidelines. The article quotes a dietician saying “[t]hese are decisions I want to make for my kids. These should not be government decisions,” ignoring how industries’ extensive budgets determine and define what options are available to parents.
- Reuters on the “U.S. Conference of Mayors Announces Multi-Year Community Grant Program with American Beverage Association.” The program aims to educate individuals “to encourage healthy weight through balanced diet choices and regular physical activity,” choosing not to address the need for system-level change in industry practices.
- NPR Shots blog reports on a new study in “Junk Food Near Schools May Be Trivial Factor for Kids’ Weight.” The small study found that the “number and proximity of junk food stores didn't seem to impact the kids' BMI. ”The Childhood Obesity Research Center adeptly counters, “It's all about individual choices…But, the more that we swim in an obesity-promoting environment, the harder it is to make those choices.” (Full study here, subscription required.)
- A great piece in Portland Daily Sun, “Anti-obesity push aims for local produce,” highlights Portland’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work efforts. The piece employs messaging strategies we have discussed in the past, including community engagement, benefits to local businesses, local control, and return on investment. The article adroitly cues the environment: “The idea is you change the environment in a way that there's greater access...”
Tips to Guide your Conversation
We encourage prevention advocates to use the word ‘Options’, not ‘Choices’, when they talk about prevention work. Using the word ‘options’ helps shift responsibility for accessibility and availability away from the individual, and back to the industries and policies that shape and limit our behavior and our choices. Families don’t have much control over what’s made available to them in the places they live, work, and play; they don’t ‘choose’ what’s on their grocery shelves, whether parks are available nearby, whether their neighborhoods are safe or their neighbor smokes. A ‘choice’ between an awful and a less awful option is not a true choice at all.
Here's an example:
In many neighborhoods, the default option is not the healthiest option—like kids having to ask for water in schools. Parents and families shouldn’t have to search out and choose the healthiest option—the healthiest option should be the norm. To recap from last week's Rapid Response, messaging should lead with the environment, focus on values, and state solutions.
Children and families deserve healthy options. Policies that increase access to healthy foods and decrease access to unhealthy foods protect children and families. The restaurant industry alone spends more than $5 million every day marketing unhealthy foods to children. With numbers like these, the deck is stacked against parents who want to make healthy decisions for their children. Policies help right the balance, giving families more control, more options, and paving the way for better health.
What you can do:
- Send your congressperson a letter today, educating them about the importance of community prevention: we’ve made it easy, with tailored emails that you can send directly to your legislators.
- Make sure we have your zip code. We want to be able to mobilize people right where you live. Update your information here.
- Write a blog, op-ed or letter to the editor of your local paper.
- Have a successful example of community prevention in action? Please share it with us so we can include it in our talking points.
- Visit our Health Reform Advocacy page for more information.