By: Caitlin L.
As nutrition educators and researchers it is up to us to translate our knowledge into language understandable to the general public. We take our insight about metabolic mechanisms and biochemistry and condense it down into phrases such as “eat more vegetables”. Unfortunately, over the past few decades nutrition advice has become lost in translation. Our goal to send simple messages to the general public has been overtaken by the media and the hungry desire of Americans for the quick fix. As a result nutrition related advice has become a confusing maze of information for many. Good news for those of us in the education field who want job security, bad news for the general public who have no idea what to believe anymore.
The Trust for America's Health group recently found that obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states over the past year and not one state saw a decline. Our struggling economy isn't helping this situation either. With increasing unemployment and market slowdowns the American population is collectively tightening its purse strings. Fast food and large food companies are using these tough economic times as an opportunity to increase portion and package sizes to entice consumers to get more “bang for their buck”. Ironically as more households cut down their food costs, the threat of the obesity-hunger paradox grows as low income families attempt to make their budget last by buying cheaper, calorically dense foods.
I would argue that all hope is not lost despite this bleak outlook. We as nutrition professionals can take these tough times and turn them into an opportunity to make people listen. Our uninspiring (yet true) advice about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables is promoting visions of tofu and wilted greens in the minds of millions of fast food loving Americans who still see diet as a four letter word. The subject of money can be a new angle to get people listening. For example, The Kaiser Foundation has reported that Americans spend more than $2 trillion dollars annually on health care, with more than ¼ of the costs related to obesity. However, findings from the Trust for America's Health estimates that if we as a country reduce our Type II Diabetes and high blood pressure prevalence by 5% we can save more than $5 billion dollars on health care costs, and the savings continues to increase with reductions in heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
Since the threat of disease does not seem to be enough of a deterrent against obesity, maybe the possibility of money savings will be. We can focus on communities that need our help with educational programs on how to eat healthy using food stamps and how to be smart consumers to save money and eat well. We can dispel the myth that eating healthy (or locally) is an elitist activity. In sum, we need to focus on education that teaches American consumers how to get both nutrition AND value for the dollar, and how those dollars saved from health care will add up to incredible savings.Using money as a motivation is hard for me (the idealistic graduate student ready to change the world one apple at a time) to admit, but spilling all the fascinating information I know about the magic behind nutrient metabolism does not empower people to make changes. It needs to be immediately relevant and important to their lives. Using nutrition and disease prevention as a way to save money may be just the approach to do this.