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A Major Communication Challenge of Our Times: What on Earth Do We Say About Processed Foods?

Rowe, Sylvia MA; Alexander, Nick BA

doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e31829da51d
Nutrition Communications

The subject of processed foods has stirred controversy in the scientific community, created confusion among consumers, and posed a major challenge to nutrition communicators. In the ongoing public discussion of “good” and “bad” foods, increasing scrutiny has fallen on processed foods, with their ingredient list as complex as whole foods are perceived as simple. Without getting into the health implications of our changing food system, consumer preferences, and increasingly food-preparation-distant lifestyles (which have afforded diminishing roles to home cooking and family dining and greatly increased the roles of convenience and “ready-to-eat”), the authors offer an in-depth look at the challenges of communicating about processed foods, whose importance in consumer diets seems likely to continue even while other food choices expand (with product proliferation at supermarkets, increasing popularity of farmers’ markets, etc). The criticality of communication issues is highlighted by the recent publication of 2 noteworthy books, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal and Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, both of whose relevance to nutrition communication is discussed here.

The elephant in the nutrition room is undeclared but deeply held differences in values about processed foods.

Sylvia Rowe, MA, is an adjunct professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, Massachusetts, and at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is also the president of SR Strategy, a health, nutrition, food safety, and risk communications and issue management consultancy located at Washington, DC. Previously, Ms Rowe served as president and chief executive officer of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and IFIC Foundation, nonprofit organizations that communicate science-based information of food safety and nutrition issues to health professionals, journalists, government officials, educators, and consumers.

Nick Alexander, BA, is former senior media counselor for the IFIC Foundation, Washington, DC. He holds a bachelor’s of arts degree from Harvard University. A former network correspondent with ABC News, he has been tracking and writing about science communications issues and the evolving challenge to public acceptance of credible science for the past decade.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Sylvia Rowe, MA, 1100 Connecticut Ave NW, #1000, Washington, DC 20036 (

© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins