Communicating Nutrition: More Than Just a “leafy logo”

In a recent post in The Buzz Bin, Emily Valentine addressed the role of marketing in health communication. Valentine attended the Child Nutrition Industry Conference, sponsored by the School Nutrition Association, where she networked with professionals responsible for school food production and standards. Aside from the hot topics of debate about what food should be served in school cafeterias, conference attendees came to the consensus that nutrition education was paramount for improving the health of American children.

A panel of school nutrition directors said that branded food products play a role in nutrition education because they help students and parents recognize which products are smart choices. According to the panelists, “The average American might not take the time to read nutrition labels before making a food purchase, but a strong brand icon (like Kashi’s green emblem or Whole Foods’ leafy logo) can instantly communicate all the information consumers need (and want) to know.”


Lunch line options are colorful. What message does Goldfish brand send?

The role of branding in communicating healthy choices is valid; however, nutrition education cannot start there. Children and their caregivers have to understand what those symbols represent and that they are beneficial before they will choose them. This is where public relations comes into play: Education usually provides new information that influences the way learners think or behave (sounds like PR to me!). Health communication, as an avenue of public relations, involves informing a public about a health risk and suggests a recommended response to avert the risk.

The following are a list of concepts pertaining to health risk messages that I derived from Witte, Meyer and Martell’s book “Effective Health Risk Messages: A Step-by-Step Guide.” I give examples in italics of components from the extended parallel processing model  based on the child nutrition topic.

1. Problem recognition: The public may or may not be aware of a risk. It will not accept a health message unless it is aware there is a problem or need for change.

Poor health results from eating non-nutritious food.

2. Perceived susceptibility: The public believes it is at risk of the health threat.

My child is at risk of poor health because he or she eats non-nutritious food.

3. Perceived severity: The public believes the risk is significant.

Malnutrition could lead to diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

4. Fear: The emotional reaction comprised of psychological and physiological dimensions that may be caused when a potential threat is perceived. Fear instigates protection motivation or defensive motivation to avert risk.

I’m afraid that my child is at risk of these health issues, or

I do not want my child to be susceptible to these health risks.

5. Efficacy: The effectiveness, feasibility and ease of a recommended response to the threat.

  • Response efficacy – belief that the recommended response is effective in preventing the health risk.

Choosing to eat more nutritious food will decrease my child’s risk of poor health.

  • Self-efficacy – a person’s belief that he or she can perform the recommended response.

I can help my child make healthy food choices.

Students appraise their fruit and veggie options at a cafeteria salad bar.

Healthy-looking logos are like a cake topper for nutrition education; they are not effective message communicators without the layers of public relations efforts beneath – such as government action like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, nutrition lessons in the classroom, doctors informing parents about their children’s nutrition, and gardening experiences at home, school or in the community. Government protocol, school staff members, parents and other role models must work together to educate children about proper nutrition; once they know the importance of “5 A Day” then food marketing will signify and confirm healthy choices.


Fruits & Veggies More Matter new logo from Produce for Better Health Foundation, partner with CDC.

One Comment to “Communicating Nutrition: More Than Just a “leafy logo””

  1. Lindsey,

    You’re absolutely right; it’s important that people be educated when it comes to nutrition so that they can make better choices when deciding what to feed their kids. Until I read this blog post, I didn’t realize how important branding is when it comes to choices regarding nutrition. But it makes perfect sense now; what mother has the time to stand in the grocery store and read nutrition labels? Mothers will choose well-known brands they trust (like Goldfish).

    You asked, “What message does the Goldfish brand send?” In my opinion, it sends the message that Goldfish are a kid-friendly snack; after all, Goldfish are tasty, and instead of a square shape, the crackers are in the shape of goldfish (that have have small imprints of an eye and a smile). How fun, right? Goldfish are manufactured by Pepperidge Farm, and I think that Pepperidge Farm did a great thing with these snacks. By making them fun and easily recognizable (branding!), so many American households (including my own!) have Goldfish on hand. Pepperidge Farm is enjoying a lot of success thanks to Goldfish.

    Great blog post! I truly believe you’re going to be a successful health communicator.

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