We have always encouraged careful scrutiny of how the food industry (and industry-funded health organizations) frames health messaging, as there is a tendency to deflect blame and put the onus of today’s health problems exclusively on consumers.
You may recall PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s infamous quote — “if all consumers exercised, did what they had to do, the problem of obesity wouldn’t exist.”
The “personal responsibility” argument is ubiquitous and industry-friendly, as it distracts from substantial conversation on public health policy.
In a guest column for US News & World Report, Canadian obesity expert and friend to DFPI Yoni Freedhoff explains why it this argument is problematic.
- “Personal responsibility-based healthy living efforts require privileges that the vast majority of people don’t possess.”
- “People with disabilities, chronic pain, severe fatigue and other conditions may find purposeful behavior change to be literally too difficult or figuratively too low a priority, given their day-to-day pain and challenges. That latter bit brings us to the most commonly overlooked privilege: the privilege of life being settled enough to even consider personal responsibility-based healthy lifestyle change.”
- “The longer public health and public opinion focus their attentions on the personal-responsibility narrative of obesity and other chronic non-communicable diseases, the longer we’ll wait to see population level changes. If any amount of desire, guilt or shame were sufficient to drive sustained change, we’d have been rid of the so-called lifestyle diseases decades ago.”
- “We’re not going to swim our way out of this flood, as not everyone can afford swimming lessons, not everyone has the time for swimming lessons and even though knowing how to swim is an undeniably good thing to know how to do, not everyone is interested in taking swimming lessons.”
- “We need policies that will help make healthier lifestyles occur by default, or that make purposeful changes easier or more valuable. Whether those changes are sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, front-of-package health claim reforms, banning advertising that targets children, improved school food policies and programs, zoning laws affected where fast food and convenience stores are located and more, there are no shortage of options.”
It is no coincidence that once organizations rid themselves of industry funding, they focus less on personal responsibility and more on holding industry accountable.