How We Advertise Food: As Bad As Those Old Cigarette Ads?

I recently wrote this opinion article that was published on As a practicing physician, being part of Chuice has given me the opportunity to learn so much about food and the food industry. I'm a pediatric ER doctor who is fascinated by culture, especially the influence culture has on how we make decisions as human beings. I believe culture sets the tone for how we behave and that sometimes we don't quite recognize how much culture can change in a relatively short period of time. 

A few decades ago, it was socially acceptable to promote cigarette smoking as part of a 'normal lifestyle'. Now, those ads are not considered ok. In fact, they now look ridiculous. That is a change in our culture -- what was socially acceptable 40-50 years is not so any more. 

In America today, about 50% less people smoke cigarettes compared to 50 years ago. Changing the rules of tobacco marketing, just a few decades ago, gradually made it so smoking was less socially acceptable. Because of that, millions of people are alive today who wouldn't be. If we hadn't made such a concerted effort to change the rules of cigarette marketing, a lot of us would have a few less friends and relatives alive today. 

How long will it take us to figure out that food marketing today does actually influence consumption in the same way tobacco marketing did? Personal responsibility is important, yes, but if we're being told constantly that it's socially acceptable to eat and drink a lot of crap frequently (which we are), we are more likely to do it. And there's now good data to show that more people are dying each year from preventable eating-related causes than are dying from tobacco (see article). 

It's not the fault of just one food/beverage company or specific industry. They are trying to make money, just as the cigarette companies did and still do. It's our fault, as a culture, for turning a blind eye to it. The fastest path to fixing our broken healthcare system, in my mind, would be to get past the blame game, accept that we have a serious problem, and start the process of changing the culture of eating, starting with how we market and advertise the eating experience. Today's food ads will one day look as ridiculous as old cigarette ads. The sooner we get there, the better for everyone.

Sujit Sharma MD

CEO at Chuice

Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Board of Directors, Georgia Organics