Micronutrient Porn

I recently attended a symposium entitled The Spectrum of Sweet, dedicated to one of Canada’s hottest topics: sugar. Hosted by Food & Consumer Products of Canada, speakers ranged from doctors to registered dietitians to representatives from Health Canada. But as a Public Relations professional, the most interesting talk of the day came from seasoned Globe and Mail public health reporter, André Picard.

Humorous and refreshing, Picard not only gave attendees a glimpse into the process of selecting which stories to cover, but the reasons why readers need to take health articles – like those about sugar – with a grain of salt.

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Health articles tend to focus on the hot-button issue of the day, and right now it’s all about food – from what we eat to how much, and everything in between. Why is food such a hot topic in the health arena? According to Picard, it’s basically because we have nothing else to worry about. With free health care, a stable government, and many other contributing factors that make Canada so great, we’ve found other things to obsess over – and at the forefront is food.

Picard poses this question: does a Mississauga soccer dad need to worry about how much Omega 3 fatty acid is in his salmon? No. But health reporters are still going to write about it. And this is what Picard has coined “micronutrient porn”- loosely defined as stories about the next ingredient that’s going to kill us all.

Over the years media have picked certain topics to vilify – fat, salt, trans fat, gluten, and today’s current baddie – the dreaded evil sugar. Articles in the media are seen as the superheroes to slay these villains. But Picard warns us that what we read in the paper is never black and white. For example, new reports are coming out that say Canadians are consuming 16 teaspoons of sugar a day, which can’t be healthy. However, to what is this 16 teaspoons compared? What does it mean? He suggests Canadians need to put these articles into context, and read them knowing health reporters are ultimately looking to sell papers. After all, would you eat something that contained butanoate, phenylalanine, and aspartic acid? Better put down that banana then…

The bottom line for Picard? Life is for living, so enjoy it. And his message to health reporters: keep doing what you’re doing, but stop ruining the dinner party!

Posted on: June 10th, 2014 by

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