by Beth Shepard    Beth's profile on LinkedIn  

Thinking You Eat Healthy Doesn’t Make It So

Do your employees, coworkers, and friends think they eat healthy? A lot of people do — and they’re often sorely mistaken. A representative poll of 3000 US adults conducted by NPR and Truven Analytics found 75% rank nutrition habits as good, very good, or excellent. Very perplexing results, considering that study after study shows Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables while getting far too much sugar and not nearly enough fiber — among other poor nutrition habits. Worse yet, many suffer from food-related chronic conditions. What gives?

Too Much of a Good Thing

Health experts point to large portion sizes as a major culprit. Packaged foods and recipes promoted as healthy or organic tend to cause the health halo effect — where people believe they can eat unlimited quantities: It’s good for me. Truth is, even highly nutritious foods contribute to excess calories and health problems if you polish off more than you need. More fruits and vegetables, for example, won’t promote weight loss unless they replace less-nutritious, higher-calorie foods.

Food Lies and Misperceptions

Are organic sugar cookies a healthy choice? What about my sister’s spinach and kale lasagna? Or this gluten-free muffin?

Choosing organic produce — especially items on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list — is a good idea for reducing exposure to pesticides and food additives as well as minimizing environmental impact. But evidence is mixed regarding clear nutrition benefit. Superfoods are all the rage, but adding them to a traditional high-fat, high-sodium, or sugary dish doesn’t magically make it “healthy.” And while a small percentage of people have a documented medical reason for going gluten free, many do so because they believe it’s a beneficial dietary change; for most, it’s not.

Countering well-meaning but misguided nutrition beliefs and behaviors can be an uphill battle. Clever marketing tactics prey on the consumer’s desire for a magic nutrition bullet: If I just eat more of that, or take this supplement, or cut this entire food group out of my diet, I’ll lose weight for good. And people don’t like to admit they’ve been duped.

What to Do

You can do a lot to bust myths and misunderstandings. Try these tips to turn the tide toward eating habits that boost health and well-being:

  • Create short myth-busting quizzes as education tools and to get snapshots of the most prevalent myths afloat in your population. Hold a drawing for participants and give away a few farmers’ market gift cards.
  • Embed polls on your program home page to clear up nutrition misconceptions. Example: You can trust that snack bars labeled “organic” are highly nutritious. Polls serve a triple purpose: engaging participants to tune in next week for the answer, educating, and informing future well-being initiatives.
  • Carve out a section of website real estate for rotating examples of misleading marketing claims. Ask employees to submit their own examples to encourage independent detective work.
  • Partner with cafeteria/break room staff to create promotional displays showing healthy portion sizes.
  • Stage a contest where workers try serving up a correct serving size.
  • Emphasize the importance of honoring hunger vs. fullness signals, no matter what is on the plate.
  • Launch a year-round marketing campaign for produce (see below).
  • Bring in local registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) for lunch-and-learns featuring an often misunderstood topic, with time for questions and answers.

  • Consumers are bombarded with true and false nutrition information from an unending array of sources: media messages, food packaging, pseudo-scientific claims, self-appointed but unqualified “experts,” friends, neighbors, relatives, Pinterest, and more. Many are unequipped and unprepared to sort fact from fiction. Help your population cut through the clutter and make better choices by shining a light on scientifically sound, practical nutrition advice they can put into practice to feel their best every day.

    Promoting Fruits and Veggies: Time to Make Some Noise

    What if Brussels sprouts got the same marketing attention as NABISCO® Ritz Crackers? Think about the creative brainpower and talent you already have on your team. With minimal resources and a decent effort, you can launch an in-house campaign to make eating produce cool again. For inspiration:

  • Check out, a big marketing-style campaign for fruits and vegetables.
  • Watch this video clip and these short Unjunk Yourself videos.
  • Launch a contest to brainstorm simple, yet clever, humorous slogans and poster/T-shirt designs promoting individual produce items.
  • Publicize a Vegetable of the Week, complete with nutrition facts, recipes, shopping, prep, and storage tips. Encourage potlucks to align with the theme. Propose coordinating with your onsite produce delivery service to include a larger supply of the featured item.
  • Hold a Radical Radishes rap or haiku contest, challenging teams to work together to create and submit produce-themed music videos or poetry. Post all submissions online and have everyone vote on winners and runners-up. Award a traveling trophy and produce-related prizes.

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