7, 2004: Whatever happened to hitchhiking? As a young
man I enjoyed hitchhiking. High school basketball and volleyball
games and practices were followed by “thumbing”
the 21 kilometers home. For two years I hitchhiked from the
family farm in northern Huron County to the college of my
choice some 500 kilometres away in the United States. Was
I caught up in a passing fad?
Last week at a conference in Ottawa, a talk by pollster Allan
Gregg quelled that notion. Hitchhiking fell victim to North
America’s growing aversion to risk. Gregg’s examples
were smoking and drinking while driving. Over a quarter century
a public consensus has emerged censoring these behaviors.
Gregg sees a pattern. First we label a behavior risky. Second,
we study the risky behavior and propose solutions. Third,
the media over-reports the risk. Finally, a public consensus
emerges that brands the risky behavior socially reprehensible.
There are lots of examples: driving without a seatbelt, cycling
without a helmet, hockey without a face mask.
The food chain, too, has its examples. Cholesterol and trans
fats expose consumers to involuntary risks – risks that
are invisible and ingested. Studies are being done. Solutions
are being proposed. Some media frenzy has bubbled up. And
branding has begun with the emergence of cholesterol-free
cooking and trans fat free snacks.
The food chain is on the cusp of a whopper of public censure.
First we label a behavior risky. The promotion of junk food
and fast food has been cited as a cause of obesity. Second
we study the risky behavior and propose solutions. A World
Health Organization report links junk food to obesity. The
Ontario government calls for pop-free schools. Third, a media
feeding frenzy starts, and be forewarned, it is coming to
a movie theatre near you!
But wait. Let me be clear -- the emerging public censure
will not be aimed at those who eat junk food. The promotion
of fast food is about to become a reprehensible behavior.
Morgan Spurlock’s documentary: “Super Size Me,”
in theatres since early May, is a biting critique of the behavior
of fast food companies.
On the surface, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary tells
the story of a 30-day binge on McDonald's burgers and fries.
His rules: a) eat three meals a day at McDonald's; b) eat
every item on the menu at least once; and c) if asked to super-size
the meal, say yes. Spurlock becomes lethargic, moody, and
beefs up 25 more pounds while his doctors warn him of liver
and kidney damage.
The real story is McDonald's life-long marketing strategy
–- get them while they are young with clowns, toys,
playgrounds to top off every fun-filled day. A promotion strategy
that hooks our kids on foods linked to obesity – a reprehensible
Morgan Spurlock writes a daily blog about his experience
promoting his documentary and the message that those promoting
junk food are responsible for obesity: http://blogs.indiewire.com/morganspurlock/.
The World Health Organization and UN Food and Agriculture
Organization report which links junk food to obesity can be
found at www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/en/.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency report "Does Food
Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence"
can be found at www.foodstandards.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/
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