Think Before You Drink: New York’s Latest Shockvertising

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As kids we were told to drink our milk, finish our vegetables, and NOT drink cups of fat? Well, not exactly.

But it appears that the New York City Department of Health is adding this last rule to the list. In a new campaign to address the detrimental effects of sweetened drinks, the Health Department is asking New Yorkers of all ages to think before they drink.

The agency’s recently launched public-awareness campaign, which cost about $277,000 to develop over three fiscal years, features graphic posters that will run in 1,500 subway cars through October.

In the spirit of last year’s “Pouring on the pounds” campaign, its latest effort aims to wake up New Yorkers to “what goes into a large serving of sweetened soda.” The answer: packets of sugar that transform into blobs of fat via soda, evidently.

It’s eye-opening, but nowhere near as unsettling as last year’s TV spot, in which an actor drinks pure fat from a glass, while asking viewers, “Are you pouring on the pounds? Drinking one can of soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.”[more]

According to the Health Department, 2 million New Yorkers drink at least one sweetened beverage each day, prompting the banning of sugary drinks in schools.

“When people count calories, they too often forget to include the liquid ones. We need to start thinking of the sugar in sweetened drinks as unwanted, wasted calories,” commented Cathy Nonas, director of the Health Department’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Programs.

These graphicads are only the latest part of the city’s bold (some call it “shockvertising”) public health campaign, in which graphic anti-smoking ads warn adults and kids about the perils of cigarettes. “If you get in people’s faces a bit, that does get people’s attention,” said Associate Health Commissioner Geoff Cowley to the New York Daily News.

But will attention alone prove to be effective? Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association denounced last year’s introduction of the campaign, saying, “it was more focused on the sensational rather than the substance” and would “do more harm than good.”

Even so, Kelly D. Brownwell, a professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health at Yale, and director of the university’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, commented, “I have a feeling that this could have a pretty potent effect – the ads are dramatic.”

Despite a clear difference in public opinion, it will be hard to ignore the unappealing décor of our subway rides. And while stifled by information, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of disgust. After all, it could be the only emotion to engage New Yorkers’ jaded minds.

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