"Healthy or Hype"

by Satsuki on April 2, 2015 - 5:30pm

In today’s era of rapid development, more and more people care about their state of health. This particular attention to personal health status among the population gives food companies a chance to better promote their products. They put different labels showing health benefits that people may obtain by consuming their products and make advertisements by emphasizing those benefits. However, their labels are, often, misleading, since they only present the good side of the products and ignore other inconveniences. Thus, the question I would like to examine follows: are the representations of misleading food labels in the media ethical?

CBS News has an article titled: Healthy or hype? 16 most misleading food labels, which presents 16 examples of the most abundant misleading food labels existing in the market, such as, all natural, no sugar added, no trans fat, immunity booster, etc. The article argues, “ Terms like fat free or all natural are often slapped on a food item that may not be healthy at all” (Healthy). The health benefit may not be beneficial for health. Oasis Health Break CholestPrevent juice makes a cholesterol claim. However, in order to gain those advantages from the juice, people consume more than 1.5 kilograms of sugar per month, which is way too much for an individual (News). Nevertheless, as consumers wants their foods produced in an environmentally friend way and contained healthy ingredients, they look to labels for cues as they make their decisions. Furthermore, as media industry becomes essential to our life, those misleading claims do not stay only on the packages, but also go into commercials. Dannon Oiko yogurt is one of the examples. The male character being the perfect snack for two women in the office says that the yogurt is “healthy” and contains “ zero percent fat and 5 grams of protein”(Dannon), which are not true. In fact, they use “lots of thickeners and other additives in all flavored varieties” and “milk with hormones and antibiotics” (Clapinski).  Hence, Dannon yogurt ‘ advertisements use untruthful claims in order to appeal to its customers. Therefore, the article suggests that people choose their products more carefully and gives advices to avoid being influenced by the rich variety of deceitful labels.

First, we can address the question from a deontological point of view. This ideology suggests that people should act according to their duty no matter the outcomes, which need to be considered as an independent aspect. If people perform the action with good will, then it is morally just. In the case of the media, people should stay truthful and provide information that truly described the objects. However, the food labels and advertisements, now in the market, are often not an honest representation of the object. In general, the population lacks education on food chemistry. Hence, people can hardly recognize the flaws presented in the promotions with well-designed, attractive claims. The media use this lack of knowledge as a mean to open a wider market targeting more consumers who want to eat healthy. According to the Kantian perspective, it is morally unjust, since the media does not follow its duty to remain truthful where all the actions against one’s duty are being considered as unethical.

Furthermore, we can also look at this issue in a teleological perspective. The theory of utility suggests the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. The morality of an action is defined by its outcome. In this case, media need to show information that could bring good for the general population. The misleading food labels and advertisement are going against this point of view. People are attracted to the benefits showing by food companies, which eventually could bring no advantages or possible harmful consequences to themselves. Hence, the representation of misleading food labels in the media is also unethical in this case. The greatest happiness is for people to have a better health. The media delivers misleading messages to bring more profits for its own, instead of health benefits for the population. Thus, the greatest happiness goes to the small amount of population, which, according to utilitarianism, is morally unjust.

Nevertheless, from an ethical egoism stand, the representation of misleading food labeling seems to be an ethical action. The ideology suggests, “the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose”(John). People should pursue their own self-interest. In the case of misleading labeling, food companies choose to do what is the best for their own benefit. They exaggerate the good sides of their products by reducing the down sides to its minimum quantity, so that people also ignore the down sides of the product. Being attracted by the promotions, consumers are more likely to purchase the products. They, therefore, use exaggeration of their products as a mean to optimize their own profit, since they have opened a larger market. Thus, the representation become morally just with an ethical egoist point of view, since the food companies consider their own interest before the interest of others.

In conclusion, the representation of misleading food labels in the media is unethical from both deontological and teleological perspectives, but seems ethical from ethical egoism point of view. However, it is morally unjust in general. The rules for food labeling are too vague, so that food companies are able to find an alternative way to promote their products in unrealistic way. Furthermore, food is not the only products with misleading labels. Thus, it may be a solution to tighten the regulations and the restrictions in terms of misleading labels.


Works cited:

Clapinski, Dina. "The Best and Worst Greek-Style Yogurts for Your Health." Be Food Smart RSS. N.p., 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2015. <http://www.befoodsmart.com/blog/the-best-and-worst-greek-style-yogurts-f....

"Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt 'Healthy vs Tasty' TV Commercial with John Stamos 1." YouTube. YouTube, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNOiBEK5_DE>.

"Healthy or Hype? 16 Most Misleading Food Labels." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 11 June 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/media/healthy-or-hype-16-most-misleading-food-lab....

John C. Merril, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David  Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)]

News, CBC. "10 Misleading Food Product Labels in Canada." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 03 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2015. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/10-misleading-food-product-labels-in-canad....

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