Written by Jennifer Rubin, CNN
The American Heart Association (AHA) is launching a major wellness campaign this week to take the highly controversial message that saturated fat and sugar contribute to obesity and related diseases to the grocery store shelves.
The goal of the Campaign for Real Food: America’s Heart Healthy Choices is to communicate to consumers about better eating and exercise choices for heart disease, stroke and other major causes of death. It’s a signal that the nation’s largest health organization is intent on mobilizing public health strategies that meet the nation’s health challenges now — rather than waiting for public health budgets to begin to be focused on public health issues in the future.
In addition to taking the message to the grocery store, the campaign will advocate for Americans to consider purchasing foods that fit a healthful diet: lower in calories, sodium, sugar and saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables.
CNN speaks with iJET University senior director Gary Witter about the campaign’s efforts to encourage consumers to eat healthfully.
“The average American currently does not eat a proper American diet, which is leading to significant health problems,” said Dr. Nancy Brown, president-elect of the American Heart Association, in a news release. “Such problems include obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”
The campaign will use media and public service announcements, website tools, social media and other messaging to encourage consumers to choose healthier foods. Those who incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet can reduce their risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke.
“From the very beginning of our organization in 1938, our board of directors said we had to focus on public health and disease prevention and not just on just health care,” said Brown, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic. “This, of course, never got any traction with the public health bureaucracy.
“We have scientific evidence that it’s not just treating diseases. It’s about helping people lead healthy lives, even at an individual level,” she said.
The AHA, in conjunction with its partners — including the American Public Health Association and the American College of Cardiology — will launch the campaign on March 9, launching the association’s first-ever public health awareness campaign.
AHA research and national health experts have interviewed more than 13,000 Americans for more than 200 consumer focus groups to develop guidelines for the campaign. The exercise has become so powerful that more than half of those involved have canceled their heart attacks or died of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA.
“Diet plays a major role in cardiovascular disease,” Brown said. “Eating properly is part of the whole health equation, and it’s not just about what we consume, but what we do about it. It’s about being healthy and maintaining fitness, including avoiding alcohol, red meat and trans-fatty acids.
“In my view, everybody should have to eat real food. The term is misleading,” she said. “Real food is whole foods. It means no sugar, no starches and no artificial ingredients.”
Brown added that if there’s any drawback to the campaign, it may be that it may not be credible for some families. The average American is fed not only traditional foods from the grocery store but also time-consuming mealtime routines that often revolve around television, computer or smartphone entertainment and distractions.
“It might not have the appropriate science, which you can’t rely on, but you can at least put together a plan and a goal and make it achievable,” Brown said.
This is the largest and most comprehensive campaign to date to help people make healthy lifestyle choices, Witter said.
“I’m excited about this initiative because it’s an achievable national challenge,” he said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”