No. 1: MEJO 121 (Multimedia Journalism) – The Diet Industry’s Impact
The idea of losing weight and dieting is a prevalent aspect of American culture. In fact, 91% of surveyed college women had used dieting as a weight control method. The American public’s desire to lose weight enables weight loss advertisers to take advantage of vulnerable people. However, this is by no means a recent development. With research, I uncovered that weight loss advertising has persisted for more than 100 years. While the specific products change over time, they almost always promise quick results with minimal effort.
I decided to tackle this topic because many people in my life, including myself, have taken dieting to extreme measures. People of all ages lament that they are dissatisfied with their weight. An unhappy attitude about one’s body and self-image can debilitate one’s work, social and intimate life.
My infographic shows that dieting impacts many people and can lead to unhealthy and disordered thoughts and behaviors. Diets sell well because they appeal to people who are desperate for change at any cost. However, advertisers conveniently neglect to disclose that many weight loss products do not promote healthy or sustainable weight loss. I chose to demonstrate this dichotomy through my infographic; while the dieting industry receives more money than ever before, obesity is also at an all-time high.
One reason that the diet industry is unable to impact the American public is because advertisers are not always truthful. A 2001 Federal Trade Commission study found that 55% of weight loss advertisers use falsified or misleading claims in their product promotion.
In order to uncover more information on weight loss advertising, I interviewed Embody Carolina member Joanna Kuang. Embody Carolina is a UNC-Chapel Hill organization that fosters student advocates for those with or recovering from eating disorders. Kuang deeply understands the potentially detrimental impact of weight loss advertising and marketing on the American public.
The rise of social media and products such as detoxifying teas and lollipops was an important aspect of our discussion. Many of these advertisers choose celebrities and social media influencers in order to promote their products. However, many of these celebrities use other means to maintain a svelte figure; these include a healthy diet, regular exercise, a personal trainer and a dietician. In some cases, celebrities use plastic surgery and liposuction to achieve their desired body.
Kuang stated that weight loss companies are able to confuse the average consumer by associating their product with a celebrity’s body, even if their product has done nothing to help them. The general public is unaware that celebrities are “being paid thousands of dollars to write this paragraph that they don’t actually believe,” Kuang said.
Disclosure of celebrity endorsements is a rising issue associated with weight loss advertising. Although social media influencers are required by law to disclose paid sponsorships, celebrities sometimes ignore the rule. FitTea, a detoxifying tea brand which boasts endorsements from the Kardashian and Jenner sisters, has recently come under fire for failing to disclose sponsorships and making falsified claims in their advertisements.
The ease in finding weight loss advertising as part of my B-roll stunned me. Endless magazines, shakes and weight loss pills coated pharmacy and store walls. Filming the video helped me fully realize weight loss’ entrenchment in American culture, and it simultaneously amazed and angered me.
My goal in presenting about weight loss advertising’s deceit is to discourage others from buying products that do not support a healthy or balanced body or mind. I recommend that anyone who desires a healthier lifestyle consults a medical professional instead of spending money on the next fad diet.