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THE BITTER TRUTH

The Bitter Truth


Jasmine Stewart
Brigham Young University-Idaho

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The Bitter Truth
Abstract

Jasmine Stewart, a pre-health science major at Brigham Young University-Idaho, addresses the
declining health trend recently seen in America and focuses in on the influences that are
attributed to this epidemic. In her essay titled The Bitter Truth she explains the cause of this
declining health trend that Americans are experiencing and argues that it is primarily attributed
to social relations. These relations have significant nutritional influences on our every day caloric
intake. This paper explains how these personal relations that influence food choices are affecting
peoples health in general. She addresses what it means to be in good health, according to this
essay, and explains the basic components of maintaining it. She also goes on to explain what it
means for a food to be calorically empty vs. nutrient dense. Her argument is well supported by
personal examples and statistics along with analytical reasoning. She supports her stance in
believing that the ample nutritional research that has been conducted is not largely helping the
average person by incorporating credible sources. Throughout her argument she persuades the
reader to understand that it is not the advertising, the media, or the prevalence of junk food in our
society that is triggering this ailing decline of health. Instead she states that it is the group of
people who surround us made up of friends, family, neighbors, and peers who have the greatest
impact on the types of food that we consume. She illustrates the ways that these social influences
can take place and she suggests that as unhealthy habits form they are likely to be passed down
from generation to generation. Because of this the overall health of America is on an everincreasing decline.

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Introduction
Americans are becoming more obese. The obesity rate in the U.S. has doubled in the last
14 years bringing America just shy of having a 30% obesity rate, the highest rate that this
country has ever seen (Velez, 2014). This is a puzzling trend considering the recent push in our
society to become more health conscious and more physically active. There have been many
recent studies published in health magazines, scientific journals, and in books that all try to
answer this question everyone is asking, What is leading to Americas unhealthy downfall?
What it means to be healthy is such a popular topic that it has been strategically used in
advertising for many mainstream products and companies. In almost all advertising some form of
health is being promoted. This is the case for even the worldwide fast-food chain well known for
low quality and highly caloric food, McDonalds. It is also the case for soda advertisements
(specifically Coke-a-Cola), and it is prevalent in Dove chocolate advertisements. These
advertisements always feature active people who are the picture of perfect health. This may be
concerning because it seems that advertisers are trying to fool their audience, which consists of
average people, into thinking that they are making health conscious decisions even when they are
not. There is also the fashion industry that convinces young girls to starve themselves in order to
look a certain way. So what influences a persons nutritional and lifestyle choices? Is it the
advertisements for the new weight loss trends? Is it the recently published magic cure that fixes
all health problems with little to no effort? Or is it the testimonials that trick people into investing
in the latest miracle product? The answer is that it is none of the above. Friends and family
influence nutritional decisions. The nutritional decisions that are made by members of society are

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not largely influenced by nutritional information, research studies, or advertisements; rather, the
social aspect of peoples lives affects the decisions that are made nutritionally.
Background
What does it mean to be healthy? Although there are many different definitions of
healthy, in this analysis health is not having the perfect body image or having the capacity to do
unrealistic strenuous activity, rather, health is finding and maintaining a balanced life style. To
have a balanced lifestyle is to enjoy life without feeling depressingly restricted and to maintain a
body that is able to be active and to function properly; it is to balance specific nutritional aspects
in ones life. In order to have and maintain a balanced lifestyle one must balance their energy
intake with their energy expenditure. The energy intake comes from carbohydrates, fats, proteins,
and alcohol. Although vitamins, minerals and water are essential nutrients, they do not provide
energy and thus do not contribute to energy intake. The energy expenditure is the total amount
of energy used by the body each day (Grosvenor, 2011). This expenditure is affected from the
energy that it takes to run an individuals body while resting, sitting, breathing or even running. It
is important to balance ones energy output with ones caloric intake because when these two
components are balanced, an individual can maintain a healthy weight. This is not to say that
maintaining a healthy weight is the only aspect of being healthy. As a matter of fact it is just one
of the many aspects that there are to living a healthy lifestyle. However because of the crucial
impact that maintaining a healthy weight has on other areas of our lives such as avoiding disease
and premature death, this paper will largely focus on the healthy weight of a person as being
closely related to the level of a persons healthy lifestyle.
Energy expenditure is also very crucial to living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
However, this topic is so broad and is not largely applicable to all people (specifically those who

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are confined to less active lives). Having said this, this paper will focus on energy intake, which
is applicable to everyone. The decision of how to consume the calories that are needed to run a
body is a decision that is made by everyone, multiple times a day.
The area where many people are falling short is by not choosing their energy intake to be
made up of nutrient dense foods. For example, when one chooses to eat a muffin over choosing
to eat an apple, it provides significantly less vitamins, fiber, and potassium than the apple would
have, and it provides more calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. Granted, the apple does
have sugar, but, because of the beneficial components from the apple along with the low caloric
level of an apple, it is considered to be nutrient dense. Also, it is a well-accepted concept that out
of an apple and a muffin of the same size, the apple will be more filling, specifically because of
the high fiber content that is found in the apple. Comparing these foods help to paint the picture
that there are better food choices than others. Despite the surrounding social pressures to eat
unhealthy foods, smart food choices can be made. There are ways to get full and to enjoy eating
without overdoing ones energy intake. This knowledge is not hidden; as a matter of fact, in the
modern American society it is readily available. However, despite the information that is
available, people are still confused as to why their health is declining.
In the Encyclopedia of health and aging it states nutrition has been shown to be
associated with 4 of 10 leading causes of death (coronary heart disease, some types of cancer,
stroke, and type 2 diabetes), as well as hypertension and osteoporosis. This passage goes on to
explain how ones diet can be relatively easily modified. When doing so, the power of eating
healthy, nutrient dense food can lead to the prevention of these serious diseases, promote overall
health, and enhance the quality of life (Markides, 2007, pp. 425). So why do people continue to
base their diets on unhealthy foods that are endangering their health and that could be potentially

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detrimental to their mortality rate? As this question is pondered as to why poor nutritional
decisions are still being made, it becomes apparent that there is a physiological factor in deciding
what foods to eat. In some cases foods are eaten because they bring back childhood memories, in
other cases an appetite wins over will power leading to poor nutritional decisions, or in other
cases foods may be eaten according to tradition or habit. Food is something that is distinct and
important to every society; every culture has its own important foods; food unites us as a nation
and separates us from other cultures. With the consumption of certain foods, associations, smells,
and past experiences are physiologically revived. Food is not solely eaten to obtain energy; it is
the experience, taste, temperature, and texture of food that adds meaning to it. There is nothing
wrong with placing meaning behind food; in fact it adds pleasure to the eating experience. The
only issue becomes apparent when the foods that have meaning behind them are empty calorie
foods that are high in harmful fats, sodium, and sugars (which they often are) and are constantly
consumed, inhibiting ones health. In a book titled The Vegetarian Imperative, it explains the
importance to take food seriously because of the impact that this has on a persons health
(Saxena, 2011). Because food has such a large impact on ones health, it is important to identify
what is influencing peoples food choices.
One of the more common circumstances that influence us to eat food is when food is
offered in a social setting. In cases where food decisions are made based on the social setting,
one would be under speculation for refusing to participate in eating a certain food. More often
than not these foods are empty calories. An example of this influential factor is attending a
birthday party where everyone eats cake and ice cream. It would draw attention and be abnormal
to refuse to participate in eating this traditional birthday food. It would also be easier to comply
with the crowd and, who are we kidding, it would satisfy an appetite as well. This is not to say

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that cake and ice cream should never be eaten. They should be enjoyed in moderate amounts.
This example is simply to point out how social influences affect food decisions.
Lines of Argument
The question to if nutritional decisions are mainly influenced by media and outside
influences still stands unaddressed. This expert will hopefully help to bring light to the issue of
the declining health in America. The percentage of overweight American children and teens has
more than doubled in the past decade. Moreover, two-thirds of the adults are either overweight or
obese, and at least 300,000 Americans die each year from obesity-related diseases (Greenblatt
2003). These statistics show that despite the recent health push with the health conscious fad and
the ample research published in health magazines and in science peer review journals done
towards nutritional well-being, people are still making poor decisions on which types foods make
up their energy intake. An example of this recent health fad is present in the now displayed
calorie count at many popular chain restaurants, the ever increasing number of Whole Foods
grocery stores, and it is even present in the option to opt out on fries for apple slices (an option
that is now available at many chain fast food restaurants). All of the advertising for junk food
isnt a big influential factor because if advertising was the main factor that swayed people, all the
push for weight loss and health foods would have a bigger effect on the health statistics in
America. As a matter of fact it seems that the more that people talk about nutrition and the more
studies that come out on nutrition, the more confused that people become as to what it means to
live a healthy lifestyle and how a healthy lifestyle can be achieved.
In a recently published article, Why is Nutrition so Confusing, the author explains that
it is puzzling that a universally accepted answer to the simple question of how to live a healthy
life through choosing certain foods has not been found. In nutrition, the hypotheses are

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speculations about what foods or dietary patterns help or hinder our pursuit of a long and healthy
life(Taubes, 2014). In this article the author vents his frustrations on the research in the
nutritional field that has been carried out. He explains that it is not helpful because of the lack of
depth that these studies have had. Taubes also gives his take on why these various studies are
confusing people more than they are helping.
In 1960, fewer than 13 percent of Americans were obese. Today, the percentage
of obese Americans has almost tripledMeanwhile; the research literature on
obesity has also ballooned. In 1960, fewer than 1,100 articles were published on
obesity or diabetes in the indexed medical literature. Last year it was more than
44,000. In total, over 600,000 articles have been published purporting to convey
some meaningful information on these conditions (Taubes, 2014).
These statistics could either suggest that the more that information is available, the more
confused and frustrated people get in trying to figure out which bit of information is correct, or
these statistic could also suggest that the research findings are not being personalized in an
applicable way to the point where the average person could make changes to their diet because of
the complexity of these findings.
Because of this frustration, people stop trying to figure out what is good to eat and they
start shutting out any healthy advice that they hear. They even go as far as to assign negative
stereotypes towards people who actually care about their health and the effect that food has on
their bodies. The so called health nuts are seen as the crazy people, the overly obsessive, and
the people who eat food without pleasure. They are the ones who eat food with the consistency
and taste like cardboard, right? And to care about ones health is to have a low self-esteem and to
be self conscious about ones body image. Why is this the case? Why has it become a negative

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thing to try to eat food that nourishes and helps efficiently run a body? This negative connotation
towards healthy eating has come from personal and social relations. These connotations come
from the realization that one should make a highly caloric family recipe sparingly, or even
modifying it to make it more nutrient dense; they come from the mind set that whole foods
cannot be enjoyed, from feeling restricted to not eat that extra donut, and from that changes that
come with choosing a nutrient dense caloric intake instead of an empty calorie based intake.
Because of these connotations with healthy eating, people are being socially pressured into
eating an overall less healthy diet because these associations make people believe that people
who eat healthy are not enjoying life, when in reality the opposite is true.
The frustrations and negative connotations are only a small part of what influences
people in choosing which foods to eat. Desserts are eaten at church activities. Meals are eaten
that are served at get-togethers or family dinners. Fast food is eaten when one is spending time
with others and that is what they choose to eat, and much of what is bought going to the store is
food that was bought for someone when they were younger. Food is like language. It is learned
from culture and family, and some aspects are influenced by friends or through personal
exploration. Because of all of these exterior social influences that impact the foods that are eaten,
one must step back from these influences and ask themselves what is more important to them. Is
it more important to conform to surrounding influences and continue to make poor nutritional
decisions, which may jeopardize ones health in the long run? Or is it more important to decide
to eat in order to nourish, thus risking social acceptance and having to consciously make an effort
to refrain from going with the flow? The answer should be clear. Although it takes significantly
more effort in doing so, the long-term benefits of making nutrient dense food decisions outweigh
the immediate pleasure that comes from choosing to eat empty calorie foods.

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The question may be asked, what the purpose is of all this effort to push people towards
being healthy? If someone wants to make poor choices that effect their health they should be able
to right? Wrong! When one makes the decision to not care about eating in a way to enhance
health they become subject to only consume the readily available, processed, high calorie and
low nutrient dense foods. This habit of not caring about incorporating quality food into ones life
passes from one generation to the next. A parents support is the first and most influential factor
in what affects a childs food intake, especially in the younger years of life (Duyff, 2012,
pp.463). The foods that parents introduce to their children, have available in their homes, and the
foods that the parents actually consume have a lasting impact on the eating habits for those
childrens future and will impact their food choice tendencies throughout their lives. These poor
eating habits do not only affect the physical health of a person. A research study published in the
Journal of Public Economics titled Early childhood nutrition and academic achievement: a
longitudinal analysis tracked the nutrition of children and compared this factor with their
grades. This study showed that a lack of a nutrient dense diet might have a mental effect on how
well children perform in their academics (Behrman, 1996). These poor eating habits also affect
the way that that person is perceived in society.
Recent research indicates a strong correlation between body weight, appearance,
and physician authorityThe concept of bodily capital describes the value
attached to people's appearance, attractiveness, or physical abilities that may be
exchanged for other forms of economic, social, or cultural capital. Research has
shown that one's bodily capital is consequential in numerous realms of social life,
such as influencing evaluations of students, the marriage market, and income
disparities. (Hutson, 2013 pp. 64-64).

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With our nutritional food decisions being largely effected by social influences and with a main
impact that our health has on our social status, it seems that the tainted mindset of food has come
in a full circle. The social aspect of society, as far as the way that it affects nutrition, is
sabotaging itself. First they shun any one interested in or anything related to nutritional health,
and then they ostracize the people who are not in optimum health condition. It is all backwards.
People are being nutritionally set up for failure. According to the media you are supposed to have
a perfect body, live a perfectly balanced healthy life and on top of all that buy into all of the junk
food that is presented in a deceiving manner. It just doesnt add up. But this is not what really
influences our nutritional decisions after all. What is much worse is that according to mom you
are supposed to eat her deep fried chicken because she made it just for you, or your friend is
going to be offended if you dont buy her daughters girl scout cookies, or better yet your
neighbors just showed up with a warm peach pie and suggested that you enjoy it together. These
realistic, everyday situations have the main influence on your diet.
Opposing View: Concessions and Refutation
There is the opinion that it is excessive media advertising present in the unhealthy food
market that is the main factor causing poor nutritional decisions to be made. It is even supported
by the fact that in the 1950s there wasnt nearly the health calamity as there is today, paired with
the fact that in those days there were not nearly as many advertisements promoting calorically
empty foods. It is easy to compare these two factors, but in reality this correlation needs to be
addressed in a sensible manner. Causation does not equal correlation. This trend in advertising
and declining health is not proven to be associated. So how can we know for sure the cause of
the overall decline in Americans food decisions? The root of why Americans health is declining
can be easily identified when looking at the personalized experiences with food. It does not take

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a big study to figure out the cause of this health declination, it only takes a personal reflection to
what the main cause is of why one is making poor decisions. When the physiological, social,
internal, and external factors are assessed, one can refuse the opinion that any factor other than
social is the main influence on a persons nutritional decisions. Although there may be some
influence from these other sources, it is not a main influence. This occurrence is plainly seen
throughout every culture (Guine, 2010). From any given culture, people are compelled to eat
certain types and amounts of food. For example, the Chinese are known for using rice as a staple
in their diets, the French are known for small portions, while the Polynesians are known for
eating large portions and including rice as a food staple. The world cultures that are each
associated with a unique type of food stand as a witness to the impact that social influences have
on nutritional decisions.
Conclusion
The nutritional health of American is declining. This trend is due to unhealthy social
habits and pressures that persuade the everyday person to make poor nutritional decisions. These
social influences are the main cause as to why people eat for reasons other than hunger. When
people eat because they are influenced to do so, they typically consume calorically empty foods.
These foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Because of this highly caloric composition
of these foods, Americans are consuming excessive calories. This leads to an energy imbalance,
thus causing Americans to become ever increasingly obese, which in turn effects how others
perceive them. Thus we see that food decisions are influenced by social factors.

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References
Behrman, J. R. (1996). The impact of health and nutrition on education. The World Bank
Research Observer, 11(1), 23-37.
Duyff, R. L. (2012). Food to Grow On: Toddlers to Teens. American Dietetic Association
complete food and nutrition guide (4th ed.,). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley;.
Greenblatt, A.Obesity epidemic. CQ Researcher, 13(4), 73-104.
Grosvenor, M. B., & Smolin, L. A. (2011). Energy Balance and Weight Management. Visualizing
nutrition: everyday choices (). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley ;. (Original work published 2010)
Guine, R.,Pinho Ferreira. (2010). Food, diet, and health : Past, present, and future tendencies.
New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Hutson, D. J. (2013). Your body is your business card: Bodily capital and health authority in
the fitness industry. Social Science & Medicine, 90(0), 63-71.
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Encyclopedia of health and aging (1st ed., pp. 425-426-428). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE
Publications, Inc.
Saxena, A. M. (2011). The vegetarian imperative (1st ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns
Hopkins University Press.
Taubes, G. (2014). Why nutrition is so confusing. The New York Times, (February), SR5.
Velez, M. (2014, April 8). U.S. Childhood Obesity Rates Have Actually Increased Over The Past
14 Years (STUDY). The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/childhood-obesity-ratesincreased_n_5111922.html

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