Experts strive to regain control over healthy food messaging

“Food not fads” is the tagline of a new campaign from the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). Called Ordinary Food, the campaign bears the slogan “ordinary food is good enough” and aims to raise awareness of the risks of following dietary advice from non-experts.

“We need to be careful about the sources that we trust, says the AHDB. “The Ordinary Food video was developed to make you aware of the unsubstantiated, mixed messages that adults and children are exposed to every day and to help you understand how these can drive a disordered relationship with food.”

The main element of the Ordinary Food website is a one-minute long video showing a teenage girl sitting in her bedroom scrolling through websites and social media feeds, where she is constantly bombarded with conflicting messages regarding food and health. “If you want to fit into your bodycon dress, you need to stop eating meat, dairy, fish, carbs, fat and sugar!” says a woman on one website. “The key to looking like this is orange food,” says another post.

Multiple overlapping voices with similar messages reach a crescendo before the girl shuts everything down and goes to have dinner with her family - a plate of baked potato with meat and cheese.

The video points out the nutritional qualities of the meal – calcium in the cheese, protein in the meat and potassium in the potato. “Cut through the noise, ordinary food is good enough” the voiceover says.

This campaign is a result of a growing frustration, widespread in industry, with social media and the internet and how they have driven the fragmentation of consumer beliefs and attitudes towards health and nutrition. Thanks to the internet, consumers can do their own research and draw their own conclusions about what ‘healthy food’ actually entails.

The campaign website features advice from dietitians and nutritionists on the importance of a healthy balanced diet, as well as links to the British Nutrition Foundation and mental health charity Mind.

But can industry bodies and dietitians compete with the far more seductive messages that are bombarding consumers online? All signs indicate that the answer is no. Consumers have since long lost trust in public bodies and phrases like “based on scientific evidence”. There is no such thing as ‘ordinary food’ anymore – this is in fact a meaningless phrase in today’s fragmented market, where everyone has a different concept of what ‘ordinary’ is.

It is easy to understand what the ADHB is doing and what it is trying to achieve, but the likelihood of the campaign having any significant impact is unfortunately close to zero.

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