'Leanwashing' marketing tactic used to drive junk-food sales
Advertisers emphasize exercise rather than cutting back on their high-calorie products
In 2010, Michelle Obama launched a campaign called Let’s Move to end childhood obesity.
Recent research reveals food and beverage marketing routinely overemphasizes physical activity as a way to prevent obesity. In contrast, corporate messaging rarely mentions calorie intake, even though evidence suggests it plays the central role in obesity.
In another ad, we see Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch answering questions at a fake news conference.
Lynch famously eats Skittles on the sideline in every game, and it’s commonplace for ads to show fattening foods and beverages being consumed around physical activity. The implication is that exercise reduces the risk of getting fat.
In this ad from the summer of 2014, Coke set up an elaborate machine that required people to burn off 140 calories — the amount in a bottle of Coke — in order to get a free Coke.
The ad made burning off the calories in a sugary soft drink look fun and easy. But in reality, very few of us do 20 minutes of vigorous exercise for every soft drink we consume.
Thanks to leanwashing, research indicates that about half of us incorrectly identify lack of exercise as the main cause of obesity. Worse still, those who believe this are significantly more likely to be overweight.
All this suggests that leanwashing is a good way to keep us eating sugary, fattening foods — and feeling guilty about the exercise we’re not doing.
Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.