BOB GARFIELD: A definitive study of television programming and advertising going back 30 years has yielded a shocking revelation. People on TV are slender and attractive! -- in spite of eating lots of unhealthy crap. Thus have researchers at Rutgers University surmised that unhealthy TV diets in programming and advertising both contribute to the nation's sorry eating habits. Carol Byrd Bredbenner is a professor of nutrition at Rutgers. Professor, thank you for joining us.
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: Thank you for inviting me. It's my pleasure to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: What message is TV sending?
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: Americans really are seeing a lot of activity on television telling them to eat these really - I, I have to say delicious foods, but they're also very high in calories and they're not delivering the nutrients that many people need. And then I think they also are getting this dissonant message, because when we look at the individuals who are actually engaged in the food activity either eating them or talking about them or using them as props, they are slender, attractive, healthy and there's no consequence associated with eating these calorie-laden, fat-laden foods, and we know that that's not the case.
BOB GARFIELD:Let's listen to one of those commercials and see what they're eating and what they look like. [MUSIC PLAYS] MAN: Well I just tasted Roy Rogers new Sour Dough Club with ham and turkey and swiss and tomato and bacon on toasted sour dough bread. Man, it really took me back, because those days dad made my sandwich were great.
BOB GARFIELD: Well that's a mouthful. What does this kid look like?
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER:The kid is cute little probably 8 or 9 year old; typical size-- certainly not overweight. Now of course it's him speaking years later as an adult, and we certainly don't know what he looks like because he's off screen, but if he's like the typical person that we see in these fast food restaurant advertisements, he's very good-looking. He's an adult white male; and he's slender and probably very athletic looking as well.
BOB GARFIELD:Now there is at least one television program which presented reality as you, a professor of nutrition know it. That show is The Simpsons. Tell me about it.
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: Simpsons are amazing. I think we've been watching that for a number of years. We're doing a longitudinal study looking at them and their diet is pretty wild in many cases. It's heavily into Duff Beer as you know and donuts, but I have to say Marge is a good mom. She serves a pretty decent dinner when you look at it on the table. It's usually got some kind of vegetables - usually something green like peas or something of that nature, maybe broccoli; it's hard to tell in cartoons exactly. Probably some kind of potato, it looks like, and some kind of protein-rich food.
MAN: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
MAN: Pork chop?
CHILD: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
MAN: [LAUGHS] Yeah, right, Dita, a wonderful magical animal. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: So what do you exactly have in mind? Dietary warnings? This show is rated T for transfatty acids?
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: [LAUGHS] No, not at all. I think the kinds of things that we are looking for, in fact the reason why we did these studies is to work with health and nutrition educators, and if there is a to work with programmers, we can send these messages that are worthwhile.
BOB GARFIELD:Within the last year - big controversy when it was disclosed that the, the drug czar, the head of the White House drug policy office had essentially been paying networks to include positive drug messages in their programming. Have you thought about some sort of nutrition payola program if they'll take out one Big Mac and stick in some whole grain bread?
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: Well I think we could give them examples of changes that they could make easily. It could be just background messages. For example instead of having them conversing over-- soft drinks or ice cream, it might be just as easy to have them snacking on an apple.
BOB GARFIELD: Carol Byrd Bredbenner, thank you very much for joining us.
DR. CAROL BYRD BREDBENNER: My pleasure. Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Carol Byrd Bredbenner is a professor of nutrition at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.