Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Healthy Nutrition and Health-Washing Corporate Discourses across Three Organizations in the Fast Food and Soft Drinks Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Healthy Nutrition and Health-Washing Corporate Discourses across Three Organizations in the Fast Food and Soft Drinks Industry

Article excerpt

Introductive outlook

The study inquires about rhetoric means by which the dichotomy healthy-unhealthy nutrition is being reproduced across PR discourses. The study proposes a reflection on the interplay between science and PR messages that aim to persuade consumers of the legitimacy of fast food and soda drink consumption. This preliminary contribution is relevant for the journal's scope because it supports the effort of structuring and understanding public relations speech within an interactional persuasive rhetoric grounded in empirical data. The multiplicity of discursive practices across the highly controversial realm of fast food and soda drinks is explored using the challenging arguments of scientific input filtered-out by PR output. Hence, theoretically prompted questions find answers by data-driven argumentation.

The current study aims to explore discursive means by which case studied companies deal with scientific findings that elucidate the correlation between unhealthy diets, obesity and disease such as cardio-vascular impairments or diabetes. It pursues the corporate construction of health information as right of answer (and rebuttal) of leaders on the fast-food and soft drinks global markets, aimed to counter-act scientific data on the impact of fast food and soda consumption on obesity prevalence. The main thread of discussion relies on the underlying argument that corporations acknowledge scientific data on obesity. They do not refute such findings directly, but compensate for by two types of intervention: health-washing initiatives or compensatory strategies, on the one hand, and endorsing the paradigm of individual responsibility vested as empowerment over nutrition decisions, on the other.

How are healthy nutrition practices problematized and conceptualized by most prominent champions of unhealthy eating and drinking (leading global producers of soda drinks and fast food)? How do they overcome or bypass scientific arguments about the negative impact of their products on consumers' health? How is corporate discourse (dis)similar for the global organization and for the Romanian branch? To answer these research questions, the study collects empirical evidence to account for communicative practices that shape knowledge and power attributes with the goal of gaining symbolic leverage on the targeted public. It explores critically the underlying meanings inserted in corporate textual discourses, illustrated through health-related content on the local and global corporate website. It primarily views discourses as regimes of truth (Foucault, 1969/1972), semiotic versions of socially constructed reality that, once scrutinized, elucidate power relations and hidden agendas.

Theoretical perspectives

Overweight and obesity

The United Nations General Assembly shares scientists' concerns on obesity issues and acknowledges its urgency, by proclaiming 2016-2025 the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. This call for action aims to ensure universal access to healthier, more sustainable and nutritious food, while reducing the burden of diet-related ailment incumbent on states worldwide (U.N. General Assembly resolution, 2016). The steady growth in the consumption of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are main factors responsible for the doubling of global obesity incidence from 1980 to 2014 (WHO 2016a; WHO 2016b). Overall, an estimated 13% of the world's adult population (11% of men and 15% of women) were obese in 2014, whereas 39% of adults aged 18 years and over (38% of men and 40% of women) were overweight (WHO 2016b).

A formal acknowledgement of the severity of this public health hazard is marked by a European Day of fight against obesity (celebrated on May, 21st) and World Obesity Day (October, 11th), whereas World Health Organization celebrates Anti-Obesity Day on November, 26th. U.N. urges producers and vendors of this type of processed food and beverages to take action for decreasing the quantity of salt, sugar and fat from their assortment, whilst ensuring nutritious options that are accessible to all audiences, promoting regular physical practice for employees, consumers and other stakeholders. …

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