a1 The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, 150 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA
As long as health communications have existed in the USA, Americans have faced the task of sorting the agenda of the source from the advice it provides. That task has become more complicated as advances in the science of nutrition and the technology used to present it have heightened the complexity of nutrition communications. Getting consumers to adopt a healthier diet has been a protracted undertaking with limited successes along the way. The obesity epidemic has added urgency to this discourse: not only do we need to eat better, but most of us also need to eat less. This paper reviews the dynamics that have made the communication of accurate and actionable health behaviour information an ongoing challenge, and outlines strategies for moving ahead. It considers the interplay of four sets of factors: the evolutionary nature of the science on which recommendations are based; the many sources of communication about that science; the agendas or motivations of each source; and finally the multifaceted nature of consumers, the recipients of these communications. Communication alone has not been, and will not be, sufficient for consumers to adopt the behavioural changes endorsed by experts. Broad environmental interventions coupled with individual skills development will need to be part of the process. Ultimately, it is the consumer who decides what is for dinner. Media literacy will play a critical role in building consumer efficacy in sorting fact from fiction in order to select food for a healthful diet.
(Online publication January 05 2011)