I’m not sure when I grew to be suspect or dubious about claims made on food packages, but it’s definitely not a new thing for me. As far back as 2006, I wrote a massively controversial blog post about Fig Newtons (blog comments: zero), which had just released their “100% Whole Grain” version of the finest mass-produced cookie ever known to humankind. In case you didn’t click that link, here’s the Cliff’s Notes: when comparing the “regular” Fig Newton package and the 100% Whole Grain Fig Newton package, there was NO difference other than 1 gram extra of dietary fiber in the Whole Grain version and that the Whole Grain version contained more saturated fat than the regular Newtons.
Through the years, I still pick up and examine packages of food in stores to compare how healthy they make it *look* on the front of the package to the actual measurements and ingredients on the back. Sizzle vs. detail, if you will. It’s safe to say that food manufacturers are still playing games with us. Their use of colors (green = healthy!) is occasionally misleading and if something is high in fiber, but contains 28g of sugar, you can be sure that the front of the package will contain some sort of wheat-like image that says “80% of daily fiber requirements” or something. A lie? No. Looking out for your health? Uh, no.
So I read yesterday’s New York Times story about protein bars with great interest. These bars always fascinate me. It seems like every store now has hundreds of them, all neatly lined up next to each other in a dizzying array of “healthy” colors and life-saving claims of all the protein you’ll ever need. Don’t be too fooled by them. These are perhaps some of the most egregiously labeled food packages put forth by our money-grubbing food processors, yet the Times points out that they are now a $2 billion dollar business. And they are essentially candy bars.
“You can put ‘keto’ or ‘protein’ on a candy bar and sell it, and people don’t even question it,” said Janet Chrzan, an adjunct assistant professor of nutritional anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
New York Times, January 26, 2023
So yes, protein is good for you. But not when it’s packaged up with enough sugar to make a grizzly bear dance for hours on end (sidenote: I cannot wait to see Cocaine Bear!). The Times also points out that a chocolate chip Clif Bar contains 16 grams of added sugars, more than what’s in a serving of girl scout Thin Mints. Candy bars with more protein. Sounds healthy!
So if I’m picking a protein bar, it’s these because I am encouraged (or suckered?) by the simple ingredients posted right on the front of the package!
And guess what, they are pretty tasty. And the ingredients on the front are exactly what is in it. And there are indeed no added sugars, though there are 15g of naturally occurring sugars. Maybe try one, I like them. Or don’t. But be careful out there, hardly any of these companies really care about you.
There have been a few moments this week where the topic of weight and how we judge people has come up. Something in the universe cooked up a bunch of random moments all tied to this subject that led to me to my post today.
First was this moment on Tuesday during the Bruins / Lightning NHL game when Bruins broadcaster Jack Edwards had some kind of mental breakdown and decided that instead of talking about what was happening in the hockey game, he would just go momentarily rogue and body-shame one of the Lightning players.
The best part of this is that after the game, Maroon outclassed Edwards by donating to a charity in Edwards’s name and encouraging fans to do the same. The charity is a local nonprofit organization focused on strengthening behavioral health outcomes for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders and Maroon (+fans) at last count had donated $50,000 in Jack Edwards name. Classy and admirable response.
There was also some talk in our house this week about Body Mass Index (“BMI”), a simple but dumb medical metric where you take your weight and divide it by the square of your height. The result is a tiered set of numbers that places you into buckets as seen below, complete with body shaming images. You can already see where this falls apart. A professional athlete, for example, who is very muscular would obviously weigh higher on the scale, but is clearly not obese. See “Pat Maroon” point above.
Even on my recent physical, the BMI metric appeared on my visit summary.
Today, the New York Times ran this piece, which does a nice job of walking us through the history of BMI, interviewing a variety of medical experts on it and also includes what might be a better way to measure your level of health and wellness when it comes to weight – it’s simpler than you probably think.
Then I remembered that during COVID in 2021, the initial vaccines were starting to be offered and there was a phased rollout, people by age, people with pre-existing health conditions, etc. There was a lot of scrambling around to schedule our shots online and maybe even “cut the line” if we could, because we all just sought normalcy as soon as we could get it. We found out that one of the ways to cut the line was to have a BMI that was 25 or over, or “obese.”
I started wearing a Fitbit in May of 2020 and my BMI has consistently been around 25-26. I’ve consistently been at that number in the two+ years I’ve been tracking my health. My weight typically ranges from 175-180 all year long. And that allowed me to cut the line and get a vaccine a bit earlier than my age group.
So by definiton of BMI, I am overweight. And that is ridiculous. I consider myself fit. I am not overly muscular, though I have *some* definition. I still play ice hockey three times a week and walk 1-2 times a week. I feel as if I am quite ordinary and normal in terms of build and I think most who know me would agree I’m not overweight. I certainly don’t let this arbitrary BMI metric bother me and I hope you don’t either!
Weight and body image are tough enough subjects as it is. We don’t need this kind of judgment, nor does the world need to hear a man broadcasting to hundreds of thousands of people snide comments about someone’s body.
A few marketing-related bullet points that have been rattling around in my brain lately…..
Snapchat. I know. It’s hot. And I swear that I’m historically an early adopter. I also know that as an almost 45 year old male, I’m not in the Snapchat demographic. But I have it and I watch it. I see what’s going on. I even like it. I like the brand stories. Geofilters are cool. But I’m feeling like it’s going to plateau before it gets to the Facebook/Twitter level of almost total adoption across all demos and ages. Why? Because most people my age don’t know how to use it, don’t want to know and like it or not, those people are a lot of headcount. Part of me feels like Snapchat will get there if they can sustain for, oh, another 20 years. Can they? Or will they be part of the upcoming valuation slashing party, which is only just beginning.
Journalism. I’ve been listening to Kirk Minehane’s podcast lately. Minehane is a local sports radio guy here in Boston, but he’s exactly my age and is the only reason why it’s worth listening to WEEI at all in the morning. His competition at 98.5 is beating him, but he’s the best thing going in the morning. The problem is that you have to also listen to the other two guys on that show, who sound like every other sports radio dolts in the world. Anyway, Minehane keeps asking the journalists he interviews if they think that the printed Boston Globe is going to be around in five years. To a man, they all say no and it’s probably true. I’m with the trends, it seems – I subscribe to the Globe and read my news on my IPad Mini every morning except Sunday. I still need that printed paper on Sundays. But I read this New York Times article yesterday about the state of Journalism and it made me sad. You should read it. Times are changing. Mobile phones are modern day candy machines. The people who are interested in hard news, real investigative journalism and learning will always find the content they need. They drew that inspiration from somewhere, though. How will the younger generation (really young kids, say, under 10) get inspired to seek out real news going forward? Only time will tell. Journalism as we know it is probably dead. Check out the Minehane podcast though, it’s good snacking.
Instagram. I love it. In an increasingly visual world, this company provides everyone who uses it with access to one-touch photo filters to make their photos look professionally shot. Professional photographers groan at this sentence. They probably should. But much like music, the average naked ear can’t tell good quality sound in the same way the naked eye can’t tell good quality photos. This is a blanket generalization, but it’s true. The problem with Instagram is that Facebook owns it. That means things are changing. If brands wants to reach users, they will soon have no option other than to pay – just like Facebook. As a brand with 114,000 followers at my old job, I can tell you that I was pretty angry when I had to start paying to reach ANY of the 114,000 who I worked so hard to amass. For advertisers, the same thing is happening with Instagram now. For everyday users of Instagram, it means that youwon’t see all the photos of the people you follow, because Instagram now more or less controls your feed. It’s more complicated than that, but in essence that is what is happening. At some point people will rebel against this Facebook/Instagram approach. Not any time soon, though. For now, as always, money talks.
The key takeaway here? Easy always wins. Always. The IPhone is easy. Amazon. Spotify. Netflix. Uber. See the trend here? Easy. All of it. SO easy. Everyone else is chasing them. Quality still means something, but it means less than it used to. That’s just the cold truth. You give someone an easy path to do something, and you’ll win. Figure out the profitability thing later. I need to think of something easy!