While watching the exciting final round Sunday coverage of the U.S. Open PGA golf tournament on NBC television, you probably couldn’t help but notice all of the multitude of promotional advertisements about a special weeklong campaign happening this week dubbed “Healthy at NBCU.” Analysts Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks cut in often between the golf action to hype how all of the NBC Universal-affiliated stations would be putting the focus on “Healthy Week” during the programming. This includes not just NBC, but also Bravo, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, Universal Orlando, CNBC, iVillage, Syfy, The Weather Channel, Oxygen, Access Hollywood, Telemundo, Universal Studios, The Today Show, USA Network, and all of the other entities under the NBC Universal umbrella. They’re making a big deal about this by providing viewers with “the information and inspiration they need to take positive steps toward better health and wellness.”
It’s a noble effort if the right kind of information is shared that will actually help the people who are watching. While summertime television viewing is sporadic at best with mostly reruns, B-rated shows, and vacations keeping people away, it’s those people who ARE watching television that makes the message that is communicated to the at-home audience during this campaign so important. Upwards of 80 million people are impacted by one or more of these NBC Universal entities on a weekly basis, so there is potential to make a lasting impact on the thinking and mentality of the viewers who are being exposed to the “Healthy at NBCU” promotion.
You’ll be seeing this campaign with Al Roker on The Weather Channel offering up healthy meal suggestions, wellness tips on The Today Show, the “Top Chef” contestants urged to make a healthy meal, the summer series “Losing It With Jillian” providing tips for improving health, interviews with experts on the rising cost of healthcare, and more. This is an unprecedented focus on promoting health that has never been seen or tried on any other network to this magnitude. You certainly have to applaud NBC Universal for putting forth the effort to educate and inspire their viewers with this emphasis on the subject of healthy living.
So what are they promoting exactly? Looking at the home page for this campaign we see their slogan is “Be informed. Be entertained. Be inspired.” Those are nice platitudes, but what does it really mean? Without practical application, all of the knowledge presented in a fun way that actually motivates people to take effective action in their own lives is meaningless and could even be detrimental. That’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at precisely what NBC Universal is attempting to share with viewers throughout this week.
First we’ll look at the Diet section to see how they think we should be eating in order to be “healthy.” I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but it’s still worth noting that conventional wisdom rules the roost with this “Healthy Week” campaign. There’s a “Healthy Tip” on the right-hand side of the page that states “Swap out your black coffee for a skim milk latte.” No explanation is provided about why this is a better choice and it could be argued the skim milk latte is actually worse for you because of the higher carbohydrate content of the beverage compared with black coffee. You can’t just put a recommendation out there to make a substitution without explaining why the original is not good for you. This was the first thing that was disheartening about what I saw.
Then moving down to the “Be Informed” section of the diet page on the web site, you’re directed to a series of articles from Prevention and Men’s Health magazines, including a link to “How To Make Nutritious Family Dinners” that states “It’s time to rethink what you’re feeding your kids to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need, and not loading up on too much fat and calories.” Again, there is no education about why fat and calories are a bad thing or even what the threshold for these should be. They just recommend eating less fat and calories as if the people who hear these messages should just instinctively know why this is important. It could be argued that most people don’t know whether cutting fat and calories matters or not and why.
Another column for recommended reading under the “Be Informed” section of the diet page is one entitled “8 Foods You’re Afraid to Try…But Should.” What foods are they wanting people to try to add to their menus under the guise that they are somehow better for them? Several are good like flax, kale, almond milk and sardines. But they also mix in two very dubious “health” foods in light of what we know about them–agave nectar which is dangerously high in unhealthy amounts of fructose and tofu with its astronomical soy content that we know is a bona fide toxin for the body. When you include suspicious foods like these on a list that people “should” be eating, that’s sending them down the wrong path to health faster than anything. They’ll hear this and start adding these foods into their diet under the assumption they’re improving health when in fact the exact opposite is happening. This is the kind of information that needs to be vetted out by real experts who know the science behind the information being disseminated to the public in a campaign devoted to being “healthy.”
When we move to the “Be Inspired” section of the diet page at the “Healthy at NBCU” web site, you notice very quickly what the diet philosophy is really all about. It’s a high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian lifestyle they are pushing with recipes like “Vegetarian Stuff Green Peppers” that brags about “swapping out animal fats with vegetable fats” in order to make a “great heart healthy choice.” If that wasn’t enough, the next recipe is (and this is not a joke!) “Orange Juice Brine For Pork Tenderloin” in order to create a “low fat marinade that keeps the meat tender and juicy.” And finally, we see a recipe for “Roasted Chicken And Vegetables” that encourages the use of “lean, white meat” to create a “healthy classic.”
Do you sense the theme here? Less fat and more carbohydrates equals “healthy” in the narrow view of NBC Universal. They are proselytizing a message that is not only archaic and irrelevant in the year 2010, but it’s also potentially dangerous for people with diabetes, obesity, or some other kind of metabolic disturbance. And that’s upwards of at least two-thirds of the tens of millions of people being exposed to these incorrect messages espoused through this campaign. While I don’t think the intentions of those behind this are in any way less than noble, that doesn’t mean we should just sit idly by and allow these wrong messages to go unchallenged. People need to be exposed to the truth that fat is their friend, carbohydrates and especially sugar need to be significantly reduced, and the calorie is not nearly as important as the quality of the calories consumed. These are the kind of messages that are so desperately needed to make a real difference in the health of the Americans exposed to this “Healthy at NBCU” promotion.
The final section of the diet page for this campaign is “Be Entertained” and one of the videos is from “Heroes” actor Greg Grunberg who encourages people to take their prescription medications. While I’m all in favor of people who need to be using medicines to improve their health, the fact of the matter is most people are unnecessarily taking drugs they just don’t need. Take, for example, the highly-touted statin drugs for lowering cholesterol. Most doctors are clueless about lipids and are treating patients using outdated science regarding LDL and total cholesterol. The more we are learning about tests like the NMR LipoProfile that measures LDL particle size and the greater importance of HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in measuring cardiovascular health, it’s becoming obvious that statin drugs like Lipitor and Crestor are way overprescribed and in most cases are simply unnecessary as well as ineffective in preventing a heart attack from happening. Eating a proper diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrate is just about the best possible way to protect your heart without the dangerous and risky side effects of taking a prescription drug like a statin.
The rest of the “Healthy at NBCU” web site includes tips on Fitness that includes lot of cardio workouts and focusing on the inner you in the “Well Being” section with meditation, supplements, stress relief and more. Again, there’s nothing at all wrong with attempting to educate the public on how to live healthier which is what makes criticizing something like this so difficult. But the information needs to be accurate and universal to those who are exposed to it in order to make the biggest difference. While the effort is there to be a beacon of knowledge for their viewers this week, NBC Universal falls way short of being the answer to the health woes that plague Americans. What people need is real solid answers that will actually help them–not being fed more of the same old failed messages they’ve heard over and over again for far too long. Keep that in mind as you see these “healthy” messages unfold this week on the various NBC Universal programming and be ready to share the truth with those who believe everything they see on television is accurate.