Author: Jenny Brown

Taking the happy out of the Happy Meal?

child eating McDonald's Happy Meal in a high chairYesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to ban giving away toys with Happy Meals or similar children’s meals. San Francisco is the first major city in the US to implement this kind of ordinance.

Under the ordinance that will take effect in December 2011, restaurants may only provide a toy if the meal (including drink) contains less than 600 calories and if less than 35% of the fat comes from sugars. It would also require restaurants to offer fruits and vegetables with any meal that comes with a toy.

McDonald’s, not surprisingly, has been leading the opposition to this ban. Scott Rodrick, McDonald’s franchise owner, told the San Francisco Chronicle that “restrictions could hurt business and cost jobs if customers cross the San Francisco border for a traditional Happy Meal experience”.

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Loco for the Four Loko

four lokos on ice

courtesy of ghostdad/flickr

$2.50. 24-ounces. Caffeinated malt beverage. 12 percent alcohol content.  Available in fruity flavors. Alias: ‘Blackout in a Can’. You have just been introduced to the “Four Loko”.  

The “Four Loko” most recently took the spotlight after the hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students. Investigators had initially thought these students had been drugged, but now police say overconsumption of “Four Loko” is to blame. However, this isn’t the first time this alcoholic energy drink has been in the news. It made headlines earlier this month when “Four Loko” was banned on the campus of New Jersey’s Ramapo College after it sent 23 students to the hospital within a number of weeks. It also appeared months ago when the marketing tactics of it and similar drinks were questioned. Perhaps we should have listened then…

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You are beautiful

woman“You are beautiful no matter what they say.” Christina Aguilera undoubtedly got it right when she belted out these words in her 2002 hit “Beautiful.” Her music video depicts a young girl ripping out the pages of women’s magazines, perhaps resembling what a lot of women feel when they view an ideal they don’t believe they live up to. In fact, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research has found that advertisements featuring beauty products also lower female consumers’ self-esteem. As reported on Medical News Today, the researchers found that

“Exposure to beauty-enhancing products in advertisements lowered consumers’ self-evaluations, in much the same way as exposure to thin and attractive models in advertisements has been found to lower self-evaluations”

What does this have to do with health?

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Sharing is caring, right?!

screen shot of sharecare.comThe web site, Sharecare.com was launched last Thursday, introducing a new question and answer platform to cyberspace, not much unlike popular health sites like WebMD and health.com. However, there is one nuance that makes the introduction of this site newsworthy- instead of advertisements being solely confined to the periphery of your web page, marketers are taking it one step further. On Sharecare.com, advice is not only being brought to the consumer by long trusted health organizations and accredited physicians, but now by marketers as well.

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Medical dramas: Raising health awareness, or hypochondriacs?

Grey's Anatomy advertisementConfession #1- every Thursday evening, I drop what I am doing and turn on the television to watch Grey’s Anatomy. Confession #2- if you told me you were traveling to the Amazon, I would definitely warn you about the Candiru fish (Season 3, Episode 21).  A new study shows that I may not be alone in my irrational fear of the Candiru.

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island have found that people who regularly watch medical dramas believe they are more likely to become ill from rare maladies, and they believe these illnesses will be severe in nature. This news brings some valuable insight to health communication specialists. Tyler Woods, Ph.D. notes,

“Millions of TV viewers watch certain medical shows such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and ‘House,’ and there is now evidence that the mass media is very powerful in disseminating health knowledge and changing health attitudes and behaviors through such programming.”

Do you believe that television programming is as powerful as this study reports? How can popular television shows be utilized to disseminate health information and should they be?

If it’s too loud, you’re too old

Dashboard Confessional band member on stage at a concert“If It’s Too Loud, You’re Too Old. Can You Handle It?” is the slogan for the approaching Java Rockin’Land Festival, to be held in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. This concert series is obviously one for the younger generation, featuring bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Stereophonics, and Dashboard Confessional. And don’t forget the sponsor- Gudang Garam International, one of Indonesia’s most popular cigarette brands. Is it merely a coincidence that Gudang Garam would focus their promotion efforts on such a venue as this?

According to Brie Cadman at Change.org,

“Tobacco sponsorship of this sort is exactly how the industry entices young people to pick up the lethal habit. By associating their products with popular music, sporting teams and other youth-focused events, the industry is able to effectively capitalize on the imagery and identity of artists, athletes and pop culture themes. According to their message on the festival website, the tobacco company makes a direct nod to their young audience, acknowledging that they’re attempting to “create a closer proximity for the genre’s younger crowds to their idols”… Whether they intend to or not, the musicians at this festival will essentially become brand ambassadors for this cigarette company.”

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Just dance!

Interactive media and games as an avenue in which to improve health are becoming increasingly popular, and not just for weight loss. Both popular and customized video games are now being used as a tool for physical rehabilitation.

Stephen Yang, a professor at SUNY Cortland, discusses interactive video games and health on ABC News. He highlights the advantages of integrating interactive video games into health regimens and therapy programs. Don’t feel like going for a run? Perhaps you could pull out the Wii console and get those feet moving with the game Just Dance! Both off-the-shelf games, like Just Dance!, and games customized for specific populations are currently being used to help patients with such illnesses as Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, and spina bifida.  The advantage of customized games, in the case of rehabilitation, is that they allow physical therapists to control different limits and constraints within the game, allowing them to better help their patient.

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What’s in a name? That which we call…high-fructose corn syrup?

corn fieldHigh-fructose corn syrup has been the victim of many criticisms in recent years. Health professionals have questioned its health effects. Consumers have struggled between nutrition recommendations and the late night snacks that are often laden with it. And many noteworthy companies have stopped using it in their products. In response, the Corn Refiners Association has decided to fight back. Tara Parker Pope at New York Times reports that,

 “The Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms that make the syrup, has been trying to improve the image of the much maligned sweetener with ad campaigns promoting it as a natural ingredient made from corn. Now, the group has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to start calling the ingredient “corn sugar,” arguing that a name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion about the product.”

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New “heart healthy” online tool targets Hispanic-Americans

cheerios in a heart-shaped bowlThe American Heart Association has recently introduced a new Spanish-language tool, intended to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke in Hispanics. The feelings of need for such a tool rises from a recent survey that unveiled that although 45 percent of Hispanic-Americans reported being at ideal heart health, 66 percent also reported that they had been advised by a physician to improve their heart health or been told they were at risk for heart disease, according to Medical News Today.

Marcando Los 7 Pasos Para Mi Salud encourages users to register on the American Heart Association website in order to take a short survey that asks questions regarding topics like diet, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and smoking status. The tool then rates the user’s health at poor, intermediate, or ideal and provides information that identifies specific recommendations on how to improve one’s heart health.

Ileana Piña, M.D., a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and an American Heart Association spokeswoman says that, “Marcando Los 7 Pasos Para Mi Salud provides a simple step-by-step approach and action plan that could help Hispanics achieve healthier lives.”

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Big tobacco has done it again! They’ve found a way to circumvent advertisement restrictionyoung girl smoking cigarettes, so finds a recent study done by researchers at the University of Otaga, Wellington, New Zealand. Their study examined YouTube and unsurprisingly enough, found a good amount of pro-tobacco videos on the site.

Most of the pro-tobacco clips found in the study included images related with a particular tobacco brand or people smoking the branded product. Not only does branding appear, but the researchers commented that,

It is disturbing to note that some of the pro-tobacco videos appeared to be of a professional standard, many followed similar themes within a brand and large numbers contained images or music that may be copyrighted to tobacco companies but have not been removed.”

Tobacco companies denied allegations that they are intentionally using YouTube as a means of advertisement.

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