Eat Like An Ape: The Media Circus at Work

chimp-clipart1.jpgHere’s a reality show pitch for ya…

What if we feature the BBC television ‘Eat like an Ape’ experiment that caged humans in the zoo to lower blood pressure and cholesterol by eating fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey for 12-days on American mainstream TV?

Now, what if we unlocked the opportunity for high-risk kids to voluntarily become ‘test monkeys?’

Hey, our scout troop PAID to pitch tents at the zoo, kids love this stuff…Check out the BBC Eat like an ape video, it could sell!

Imagine, a scientifically-based reality show that could bring back the dietary common sense we once had 6 million years ago, AND reverse high blood pressure in kids’ bodies from modern day pre-processed junk!?

Too exploitive and humiliating? Look at the ratings shenanigans of American Idol, or The Biggest Loser where attention starved people seeking celebrity status are props in the media plot for market share. Still not wild about reducing diabetes this way? Ok…

What if we teamed Animal Planet with Discovery’s Health Channel and ran an ‘eat like an ape’ YouTube user-generated contest airing the most dramatic video results and creative film work from kids all over the globe? The new “Where’s the Fruit” report on highly advertised kids’ foods makes this ultra-timely! Take it and run, media moguls… Reversing childhood obesity with live-cam coverage? Talk about a “Web 2.0” digital opportunity!

Shaping Youth already riffed off this ‘Eat like an Ape’ media blitz in a ‘fear factor meets TV news’ health science unit last week, and kids went bananas for our counter-marketing session…

The Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food & Activity Environments showed more than half the foods advertised with fruit contain absolutely none of it! Soooooooooo…..

Shaping Youth deconstructed every inch of ‘by the foot’ roll-ups, gushers, blasters, juicers and chemically colored crud that masquerades as ‘fruit, then we replaced it with “the evo diet’ to ‘eat like an ape’ and “dare to compare.”

Kids were ‘wild’ for the ishy squishy games, blindfolded taste tests, organic fruit leathers, snipped up dried apricots and chimp chubs of fresh bananas…We taught kids about chem cuisine via watch words and phrases far beyond the fruit packaging visuals…

The LA Times reported that researchers analyzed 37 products available in grocery stores that had pictures of fruit or words such as “fruit” or “berry” on their packaging and found 51% of the products contained NO fruit ingredients, 27% contained fruit puree or concentrates, and 6% contained 100% fruit juice!

It’s not fair to expect the average consumer to take the time to delve into ‘all natural’ claims, armed with a calculator for portion distortion and label minutiae, weighing out misleading packages of what LOOKS real and what IS real.

Concerted effort is needed to make big steps, and REAL, sustainable policy progress.

When advertisers blur the lines so well that it took ME two days to prepare for the class and accurately dissect all the claims and labels, it quickly gave me a snapshot as to WHY we CANNOT disconnect the media and food marketing component when it comes to the dietary habits and intake of kids.

Some harried parents just grab the biggest ‘fruit’ factor they see, lured by words like ‘all natural colors & flavors’ or ‘good source of Vitamin C’ which dangle like luscious ‘shiny objects’ to distract from the fact it’s just flattened emptiness in a high caloric ‘energy’ strand.

Shaping Youth’s dietician deconstructed a pouch of “Juicers” which amounted to three teaspoons of sugar in ten teeny bites. They could call it ‘natural’ in color because of the elderberry juice for red, and the ‘good source’ of Vitamin C was a whopping 10% of kids’ nutritional daily value.

Geez. Just call it candy, and call it a day!

In our recent session at Allen Elementary, we had fun with scavenger hunts for ‘weasel words’ and catch phrases: ‘Fruit-flavored’…Tastes like real…’ (whatever) “The flavor of…’ (insert fruit here) “Made with real”…(usually means a miniscule percentage).

Then we had kids find words completely pulled out of context…Like “100% Vitamin C” or “Zero Transfats” that often scream in monster-sized “why-to-buys” on the front of the packages.

Kids “dared to compare” what REAL fruit looks and tastes like with the brand labeled ‘fruit’ Frankenfood…from tattoo imprints on their tongues to zebra-striped colorful ribbons and pressed tie-dye splotches of sugar goo.

Trust me, it’s a bit of a ‘dare’ to get kids to try a brown-colored fruit leather that’s an organic, non-dyed specimen versus a neon bright red #40 plastic sheet they’re accustomed to noshing!

I have absolutely NO doubt kids COULD and WOULD “eat like an ape” if we were marketing healthy offerings with the same full tilt media as these ‘lab experiments’ disguised in the marketplace as ‘food.’

As it is, American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that many children reduce their fruit and vegetable intake as they transition from early to late adolescence, so we NEED to market fresh produce with zeal, appeal, and coolness caché worthy of peer ogling and results.

Speaking of results, when the zoo publicity created all the BBC buzz (their ‘do not feed the humans’ signage next to the ape exhibit was a particularly nice video touch) it was amazing to see the human’s health took a positive turnaround in less than TWO weeks time!

The ‘zoo humans’ ate 2300 calories of ‘ape food’ and in just 12 days, voila, cholesterol levels dropped 23%, (without the risks associated with statin drugs and anti-cholesterol pharmacology) the group’s average blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 – almost hypertensive – to 122/76, and they dropped about 9.7 pounds on average. (even though that wasn’t even a goal!)

With results like this, why wouldn’t we want to viral market to kids and ‘forward to a friend’ every ‘eat like an ape’ tip we can?

Hilarious videos, silly cartoons, Flickr photos, it could ignite a media push with kids that would be much more fun and healthy than a lot of other fads that take hold.

“Get real” is the universal motto…nothing more than using our common sense primate brains pre-mutated by big bucks media buys…

There ARE affordable options.

Small packs of raisins or any REAL fruit beats flashy foil pouches of any kind. Easy-to-peel satsumas are always a hit. Even the 29 cent organic fruit leather from Trader Joe’s I handed out got rave reviews. Sure beats the cartoon-laden gunk, and it’s less pricey, too.

We just have to ‘sell’ them. Look for product pairings. Create edible art. Market like the food giants do.

My daughter had a teacher that was a runner on the Nike team and didn’t want sweet treats for a Halloween party, so I dragged in oranges to transform into ‘pumpkins’, ‘green apples as witches/Frankenstein’, used raisins as eyes, peanut butter as glue, you get the drill…edible art to eat like an ape. (I think I saw it in some magazine like Family Fun and used it every year thereafter!)

Shaping Youth is rolling out counter-marketing at a record clip, because ‘there’s always something new and toxic’ to replace a trend we’ve quashed a tad.

Face it, when junk food giants are hammering healthier choices, and policy consists only of pleading with advertisers for voluntary compliance and self-rein, our gains are not sustainable without diligence and creative comebacks that flip that marketing right back into a healthier direction.

Ditch the soda from campus, now kids are chugging sports drinks of needless salt and sugar. Discourage chips, and instead you see ‘energy drinks’ at every end-cap display, where ‘energy’ equates to sugar laced with a handy little jolt of caffeine.

I feel like an idea-hamster churning on an endless wheel to counter-market whatever’s coming at kids next…Truly a shame we don’t put children’s health ahead of profits.

Right now our ‘reality show’ Dare To Compare format is experimenting with a positive reward system that smacks of Pavlovian theory so I have mixed feelings about implementing it.

We randomly pop into the cafeteria and give out ‘carnival style’ tickets for healthy eating which top contenders exchange at the end of our counter-marketing gig for a prize.

Like most freebies and incentives, it works like a charm and creates some buzz, but I think we ‘reward’ common sense behavior far too much with kids already, so if it weren’t part of the game format, I’d probably cut it out on principle alone.

It’s all about intervening early on in the game of life to set long term habits, so however I can make headway and shift behavior at this juncture is fair game.

If eating like an ape can be the ticket to good health, that’s preventive care worth exploring.

But the only ‘prize that pays’ is self-awareness. That can’t be bought or sold.

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