I just wrote a blog about the disturbing state of North American’s sky-rocketing obesity rates and for this alarming trend to stop, or at least slow down it’s my opinion that it will take a crisisat the macro and/or micro levels. At the “macro” level, we may find the universality of healthcare becoming less universal than it once was. Corrective health procedures may be based on a selection criteria and wait times will impact an individual's quality of life for years, not just months! Or at the “micro” level, personal health crisis' may occur and force individuals to make better lifestyle choices. Health maintenance requires work and most people generally don’t like the discomfort associated with exercise and they love the convenience of processed food, versus the effort required to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their families, all the while ignoring their future health consequences of their poor choices.
When asked why someone begins an exercise program for the first time, or switches to eating a healthy diet, it’s usually an external or self impose mini or major crisis that forced them to change. For example, “a doctor may urge a patient to eat a healthier diet because they’ve become a prime candidate for heart disease, or an overweight person may think they’re unattractive so they begin to exercise (vanity can often create a self imposed crisis). It’s been my observation that all the health information in the world won’t motivate people to change their unhealthy practises until faced with a crisis. (for example: 20% of people still smoke cigarettes knowing this product kills). My personal health crisis that motivated me to change my unhealthy lifestyle happened at the young age of 23, as I watched my mother die of cancer over a three year period (the picture below was taken in 1981 - 6 months before my mother's death, as myself (on the left) and my two IBM colleagues met my mother the day before we departed on a 2600km bike ride from Toronto to Ft Lauderdale, raising money for Leukaemia Research). From the moment my mother was diagnosed with Leukaemia, I made health a priority in my life which ultimately became a positive lifestyle habit.
The reason we see a minority of the population exercising daily, eating healthy food and seem impervious to "Big Food's" marketing machine is because they've made a commitment to health that's became an established habit. For these people, taking a day off from their exercise regime is the anomaly. Eating pizza or junk food is rare and drinking the poison we call Soft Drinks just never happens. These positive health habits are as difficult to break as cigarettes are to smokers, or liquor is to an alcoholic.
So why are positive health habits that become part of your DNA so important? Because without them you're highly susceptible to the food industry's marketing gurus that wake up every morning thinking up new and ingenious ways to separate you from your money through whatever means necessary, with the subsequent consequences to the you or society’s long term health implications not even an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Marketing, on the contrary. If it weren’t for marketing, far more people would be smoking today and significantly more people would be dying of AIDS.
Marketing with the sole purpose of making profits at the expense of human pain and suffering is what I object to. “Big Food” would like nothing more than people to be overweight and even better if you’re obese, because they make money on people's inability to make healthy lifestyle choices. I’m also not a conspiracy theorist, so let me explain.
- Food producers earn more profit from processed foods – ie. potato chips vs potatoes, Popcorn vs corn. (have you been to the movie theatre lately, you know what I mean about excessive profits on processed food)
- Processed foods are high in calories, with a high glycemic index and low in nutrient value, and they will increase your appetite because your body carves nutrients, not empty calories
- Your increased appetite causes you to eat more food (more empty calories)
- And when you eat all the food in your house, you rush out to the convenience store or worse still, McDonald's and buy more “nutritionally free” food loaded with free radicals that further increases your appetite
- And the food producers make more money off your poor food choices
So what, it’s a free market, this should be alright….or is it?
According to Dr. Peter Ubel, in his new book – Free Market Madness – food producers and grocery stores spend significant money learning how to market their products that have the largest profit margins and high inventory turns to their customers. Processed foods make significantly more profit for “Big Food” than their healthy original source (ie. Potatoes vs Potato Chips, Corn vs Pop Corn or Corn Syrup used as a soft drink sweetener). Since profit, not health and social responsibility is Big Food’s purpose, they focus on marketing Coca Cola and Potato Chips, rather than Corn and Potatoes. The subsequent health issues are someone else’s problem (healthcare's), not theirs. A friend of mine that used to work for Nestle's once told me for a food item to be successful, it had to contain, sugar, salt, or fat. Nothing in a grocery store just happens by accident.
In some supermarket today, a marketing expert is wandering the aisles watching how you shop, observing whether your eyes roam the shelves from top to bottom or bottom to top, and measuring how long you linger in front of an end cap display promoting some high profit junk food when you have a toddler in tow. They want to know where to place their highest margin foods, with no respect to food quality and long term health implications. The simple fact is you know less about your own shopping behaviour than the people running the stores where you shop.
It shouldn't surprise us that our hospitals are overloaded with people whose degenerative diseases are the direct result of poor food choices, when sophisticated marketing specialists spend a career researching behavioural economics to seduce people into eating foods that are harmful to their health in the quest of profit? Trust me, without healthy lifestyle habits ingrained in your DNA, you don’t stand a chance.
Western-style democracies pride themselves on freedoms: freedom to assemble, freedom to elect, and freedom to interact in the marketplace. Indeed, capitalism and democracy seem to go hand in hand. The flip side of freedom of choice is the freedom to make bad choices. In the current marketplace, companies make a practise of studying human behaviour, and your freedom of choice often leads to your own pain and misery brought on by degenerative diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Osteoporosis, cancer, joint degeneration, etc.
We might think that we’re impervious to television ads and supermarket sales tactics, but marketers and sales experts know more about your purchasing behaviour than you do, and they know how to influence you without your awareness.
So, how do you defend yourself against all of the psychological tactics that the food producers and marketing gurus are continually throwing at you, if health habits aren’t ingrained into your DNA?
Well, ensure that you have a plan whenever you enter a grocery store:
- Before you go to the supermarket, decide what HEALTHY foods you NEED. (if you’re confused which foods you NEED, make it easy in yourself and use a cheat sheet by choosing foods that fall into the categories of vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, healthy carbohydrates, non-processed protein)
- You shouldn’t have any junk food on your list. You know what I'm talking about (Chips, Pop, Candy, frozen prepared dinners, etc)
- Avoid the aisles that contain processed foods and avoid the junk food aisles like the plague. It’s tempting to pick up junk food when you’re surrounded by it. And don’t forget, the grocery store understands just where to place these items.
- Write out your entire food list containing your healthy choices
- And stick to your list. Make no exceptions, unless it's a healthy item you forgot.
You’ll never look at the grocery store or the food they sell the same way again .... and that’s a good thing.
Make healthy choices a habit - Enjoy the ride …. Rob
Note – If you are interested in learning more about how the free market isn’t as free as you think it is, check out Free Market Madness by Dr. Peter Ubel.