Nutrition counselors have arguably the lowest success rate among all health-care professionals. We have plenty of repeat customers, especially after the holidays, but we are also faced with a large percentage of "drop-outs," meaning clients who eventually give up on weight control, regular exercise, and improving their lifestyle choices. Some say, it's not the people who are failing to heed our advice, but that the messages we give are failing the people.
A study based on data from the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey found that conflicting or contradictory diet and health information in the media made recipients more likely to ignore or dismiss even widely accepted recommendations.
Participants in the survey who had the greatest exposure to inconsistent information expressed the most confusion about nutrition matters, according to Dr. Rebekah Nagler, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication and lead author of the study report.
"Greater confusion was associated indirectly with backlash against nutritional advice in general, as indicated by agreement with statements such as 'Dietary recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt,' or "Scientists really don't know what foods are good for you,'" she wrote.
Similar reactions were found with regards to the importance of exercise and the consumption of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
In spite of the countless attempts to improve our diet, we are still seeing young and old alike ignore sound nutritional advice and grow fatter and fatter, laments Jane E. Brody, a columnist for the New York Times, who specializes in topics of diet and health. But not only the food and restaurant industry influences unhealthy eating behaviour, as it is often stated, nutrition science itself is to blame as well, she says.
"Let me know when the nutrition gurus make up their minds and maybe then I'll change my diet. Meanwhile, I'll eat and drink what I like," is a widespread sentiment among would-be dieters, she says, quoting one of her clients.
One of the reasons why some people give up so easily on health advice may be that desired results often don't come quickly enough. If it doesn't work right away, there must be something wrong with a particular regimen or lifestyle change. But straightforward solutions are usually hard to come by.
One study found that oversimplifying descriptions in black and white terms -- like "good for you" or "bad for you," "healthy" or "unhealthy," etc. -- can also hinder successful weight management and adherence to better eating habits. "All or nothing responses to minor dietary transgressions" can frustrate the best of intentions, according to Aikaterini Palascha, a nutritionist and behavioral scientist at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and study author. Dichotomous thinking in addition to rigid dietary restraints is often a crucial factor in people's inability to maintain healthful diets and weight control, she says.
What makes most people deviate from good eating patterns is not so much that they are confused but rather that they are conflicted, says Dr. David L. Katz. We may want a magical formula for weight loss and other health issues, but no such thing exists. However, that doesn't mean we are at a complete loss. To the contrary. Katz believes there is already sufficient consensus to take decisive action and make the necessary changes to overcome, or at least diminish, our current obesity crisis and many related diseases.
It is because this can involve some hard work and also some education that we may be tempted to let it all go. But that's a decision based on how much we are willing to invest in our well-being, not a matter of confusion how we should go about it.
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