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  • Accentuate the Positive

    Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD

    So often food and nutrition messages come in the form of scary headlines like “5 foods you should never eat” or “10 common nutrition blunders and how to prevent them.” But do frightening, negative messages or warning labels and taxes on perceived “bad” foods really help people make better food and beverage choices? Probably not, say recent studies.

    Cornell University research presented at the July 2015 Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior Annual Conference found that people tend to respond best to positive messages rather than negative, loss-related messages. For example, instead of “eating fried foods will make you gain weight,” people are more motivated by “eating lean, grilled meat helps you shed pounds.”

    Likewise, a study conducted at Arizona State University had similar results. Researchers compared negative and positive messages in dieters and non-dieters consumption of snack food. They discovered that negatively worded food warnings are unlikely to work because non-dieters ignore them and dieters do the opposite. That is, they actually eat more of the food!

    While politicians try to legislate people’s eating habits by requiring warning labels or taxes on sugar and soda, these initiatives are usually doomed to fail. In a new report from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institute, the authors conclude, “Taxes are an imperfect instrument for addressing nutrition and health concerns.….they are no substitute for efforts to identify and help people at the greatest risk from obesity, diabetes, and related conditions.”

    As a registered dietitian nutritionist whose goal is to help people enjoy eating a variety of flavorful foods and beverages for health and wellness, I much prefer a positive approach of education to a negative one of regulation.


    Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.


    • “Which Health Messages Work Best? Experts Prefer Fear- or Loss-Related Messages, but the Public Follows Positive, Gain-Related Messages” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2015; 47:S93
    • “Messages from the Food Police: How Food-Related Warnings Backfire among Dieters” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2016; 1:175
    • Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods And Drinks? Report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, December 2015
  • Federal Government Reaffirms Safety and Benefits of Low-Calorie Sweeteners


    Despite the alarmist claims about low- and no-calorie sweeteners that sometimes appear on the Internet, these rumors and myths have now, once again, been debunked. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recently released by the federal government sets the record straight on this topic and reinforces the findings of countless other regulatory agencies and the independent analysis of renowned scientists around the globe.

    Here are the facts you should know and keep in mind when sensationalist stories about these scientifically verified ingredients surface in the media:

    • The new guidelines clearly state: “Based on the available scientific evidence, these high-intensity sweeteners have been determined to be safe for the general population.” The report also verifies that low- and no-calorie beverages can help cut calories.
    • Leading regulatory agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and agencies in more than 100 countries deem low- and no-calorie sweeteners safe and approve these ingredients.
    • Health organizations also condone the use of these ingredients. For example, The American Medical Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Diabetes Association, among others, give their stamp of approval to low-calorie sweeteners. In fact, the American Diabetes Association has said: “foods and drinks that use artificial sweeteners are another option that may help curb your cravings for something sweet.”

    So with the myths about low- and no-calorie sweeteners put to rest once again, we can have every confidence in enjoying products containing these ingredients, knowing they are safe and offer calorie-cutting benefits as well. These choices can be part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. And the really good news? Today’s marketplace has an abundance of options in varying calorie counts and sizes so that people can pick the best products for themselves and their families.

  • Back to Basics: Nutrition Education

    Carol Berg Sloan, RDN, FAND

    I grew up in El Monte, a suburb of Los Angeles and worked as a consultant to the school district there for many years, specifically in nutrition education for K-8 schools. Just after I left this position in 2012, the El Monte City Council placed an initiative on the ballot to support a soda tax. I was not surprised when it was rejected by a 77% vote. Soda tax initiatives continue to pop up all over the country, despite their failed record to actually improve public health as is their alleged purpose. Unfortunately, most tax proponents continue to ignore this fact.

    Recent “added sugar” data from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans show that a variety of foods and yes, beverages, contribute added calories to the American diet. However, singling out one item in the grocery cart to tax just doesn’t make sense to me, as is reflected in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans report. According to their recommendations, overall dietary balance is what matters.

    We need to empower consumers with science based nutrition information so they can make their own decisions about what they choose to eat and drink- not by arbitrarily taxing their everyday food and beverage choices. Utilizing resources such as the “Calories Count” initiative, which makes calories clear and easy-to-understand, is a great place to start.

    Carol Berg Sloan RDN, FAND is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and independent food and nutrition communications consultant in Long Beach, California. Carol has served as a delegate to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a committee member of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nutrition Education for the Public and Dietitians in Business and Communication Dietetic Practice Groups.