YOU'VE FINALLY resolved to lose some weight, but every time you turn on the television, there’s another ad for fast food. Dr. Michael Mink, assistant professor of health sciences at Armstrong Atlantic State University, has seen those ads, too. After conducting an intensive study on the subject, he is convinced food commercials are endangering Americans’ health.
Mink will discuss his findings Jan. 23 at 12:15 p.m. in University Hall 156. Connect Savannah recently caught up with Mink.
What is the “TV Diet”?
Michael Mink: The TV Diet is a pattern of food choices endorsed by food advertisements on broadcast television. In our study, we observed over 3,500 advertisements that appeared during 28 consecutive days of prime time and Saturday morning television.
We recorded every food item that we saw during this period, which totaled more than 800 food items and compared the nutritional quality of those food items to federal nutrition guidelines. We found that these foods failed to comply with nutritional guidelines. In fact, they deviated so sharply that there appears to be a bias for advertising some of the least healthy foods on the market.
In what ways does American TV sanction toxic food choices?
Michael Mink: We compared the nutritional quality of advertised foods to nutritional guidelines in two ways: first to the Food Guide Pyramid, which recommends daily intake of food group servings, and second to the Daily Values, which recommends daily intake of specific nutrient amounts, such as vitamin C, protein, and so on.
Using the Food Guide Pyramid as a basis, we found the diet endorsed by these ads would provide 25 times the recommended daily servings of sugar and 20 times the daily recommended servings of fat! Yet the same diet would provide less than half a days servings of dairy, vegetables, and fruit.
Since most of the nutritional factors that protect us from illness are found in fruits and vegetables, and most of the nutritional factors that promote illness can be found in processed fat and sugar, this type of diet could easily promote ill health.
How many times is the average American exposed to this each year?
Michael Mink: Based on other researchers’ estimates of American TV viewing habits, we estimate that the average American would be exposed to about 15,000 food ads each year. By contrast, we did not see a single public service announcement for healthy eating habits during the entire observation period.
Advertising seems to be heavily directed to children. Is this also true when it comes to food ads?
Michael Mink: The findings were similar to the prime time shows, but with an even greater bias towards foods with added sugar. Specifically, the foods advertised during children’s shows would provide 100 times the recommended daily servings of sugar! And this is after assuming the standard daily intake of 2,000 calories. This is clearly outrageous and could be a contributor to the growing obesity and diabetes epidemic among American youth.
Are there certain commercials or programs that are especially disturbing to you?
Michael Mink: I saw so many that were really down-right offensive in terms of their emotional manipulation and misinformation that it’s hard to name one. But I can say the most disturbing trend I saw was what I call “genderizing” food.
Some ads try to sell super-caloric, high-saturated-fat foods to men by selling the idea that men who eat healthy foods, such as garden salads, are girlish. That notion is absurd and barbaric.
I find that type of emotional manipulation to sell unhealthy products to be a form of violence. It’s shameful. I don’t see anything particularly masculine about having a stroke. csMink will discuss his findings Jan. 23 at 12:15 p.m. in Armstrong Atlantic's University Hall 156. Free and open to the public.