Choosing healthy food is complicated for consumers when they are faced with conflicting recommendations. In the case of the healthiest foods – fruits and vegetables – the choice should be very easy. Consumers simply should be eating more. Whether organically or conventionally grown, consumers can choose either with confidence.
Unfortunately, this very simple “eat more” message universally carried by health experts, consumer advocates and environmental groups is being undermined by misleading information questioning the safety of these healthful foods due to pesticide residues. This information is often presented without scientific validity or credibility. The most recent example comes from the Dr. Oz Show – an entertainment daytime talk show.
The Dr. Oz Show focused on pesticide residues and the alleged effects on children. Like many before it, this talk show ignored decades of scientific studies in the area of nutrition, toxicology and risk analysis that verifies the safety of fruits and vegetables and the importance of eating more. Since the show did not present science-based information and lacked balance, parents may well be confused about the safety of conventionally grown, more affordable fruits and vegetables.
I have spent my entire career studying consumer behavior and attitudes toward food. I can tell you that the repetition of this negative safety messaging about fruits and vegetables is having an impact on consumers. And I’m especially concerned about low income consumers and their consumption patterns. For Dr. Oz and the show’s producers, there are many barriers to consumption of fruits and vegetables, but misguided safety fears should not become one of them. Further, when the overwhelming scientific evidence about the safety and healthfulness of produce is not presented to viewers, it borders on irresponsibility, especially when this show is supposed to be about improving health.
While more research is needed on the impact of negative messages on consumers, a recent survey conducted by the Alliance for Food and Farming tested actual statements found in the media about the safety of fruits and vegetables and their impact on consumers. The survey showed that almost 10% of low income consumers said they would eat less fruits and veggies after reading those negative safety statements. Another 10% of low income consumers said they were confused over what to buy. Larger, more in depth studies are needed in this area, but these initial findings suggest that the information presented by Dr. Oz is driving people away from health-enhancing foods.
Trying to create a difference between conventional and organic produce complicates the simple “eat more” message and is unnecessary. For consumers, there is only one right choice and only one wrong choice when it comes to eating organic and/or conventional fruits and vegetables. The wrong choice is eating less. The right choice is eating more. It really is that simple.© Food Safety News