Mixed media messages

I am one of those self-proclaimed health nuts who scours the news every day for stories about the benefits of vitamins, exercise, what foods to eat for what effects, etc. It’s a confusing hobby. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, they throw another curveball. One day, green tea is a panacea, the next day, the results of all these studies were "compelling, but not conclusive," according to health guru Tom Venuto.

I love my coffee, and have heard all kinds of damning things about it. Then, one day, it’s good for me! An article in MEN’S HEALTH titled "Coffee, the New Health Food?" promotes my third favorite recreational beverage as a way to lessen the risk of type two diabetes — among other life-threatening diseases. Then again, it may also raise the risks of osteoporosis and incontinence. Ouch.

Don’t forget all that stuff about red wine. A glass or two a day can lower your chances of heart attack in middle age. Then they tell you, "Oh, grape juice does pretty much the same thing." But then, people who drink in moderation are healthier than people who don’t drink at all, and people who drink like fishes end up dead sooner than the rest of us. So they say. It’s funny that people will toast their health then drink like health is the last thing on their minds.

I’m starting to wonder if the markets aren’t behind all this. Recreational drinking in movies is done by healthy, sexy people. Most folks know that bananas have lots of potassium — because a huge marketing campaign was launched to "educate" people on it. I guess apricots and cantaloupe were outselling bananas or something? They have lots of potassium, too. And everyone knows you can get lots of calcium from milk and dairy products, thanks to all those cartoons in every elementary school classroom. Spinach ends up in the vegetable category, and beans end up in the protein segment, but both are also good sources of calcium. Some worry that consuming mass amounts of milk in an attempt to promote bone health might increase chances of coronary heart disease.

Clearing the air around all these claims isn’t easy — especially when everything unhealthy is depicted as sexy and indulgent. It’s a no-brainer that the skinny models in chocolate ads are forbidden from touching that much chocolate if they want to keep their figures — and their jobs — but I was much more disturbed when I saw an article on MSN Health last Sunday about Ritalin being increasingly used as a recreational drug. We all know that’s a bad thing with harmful long-term effects, but by looking at the picture by the headline, you wouldn’t know that’s what they were trying to say.

The picture was of a pretty pink pill between the perfect white teeth of an airbrushed model’s mouth, her lips highly glossed, her skin flawless and beautiful. Looking at the picture, you’d think the message was "pill-popping is sexy."

It would be a lot easier to decipher what is real and what is hype if companies could figure out what it is they’re selling, and stay consistent for a bit. The only consistent thing about all this information, it seems, is how much it contradicts itself.

I’ll still avoid corn syrup and hydrogenated oil; I’ll still eat my vegetables and opt for soymilk. But I’ve always been wary of anyone trying to sell me anything, and I always will be … well, except for the folks at the local Farmer’s Markets. Bring on the summer and the advertisement-free shopping.

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