I started to call this post "Part of this complete breakfast". Google that phrase and you’ll find a lot of take-offs on that time-honored advertising slogan. I remember it as the tag on commercials for my favorite sugar-laden cereals. A bowl of sugar-saturated cardboard chips would be featured in a photo that also included bacon, eggs, toast, milk and orange juice, and the announcer reminded us that our sponsor’s fine product is "…part of this complete breakfast." Which part? Why, the unnecessary part, I believe.
Before sugar became demonized, it was considered a selling point when advertising to kids. Honey Smacks used to be Sugar Smacks. Golden Crisp was Sugar Crisp. Frosted Flakes were Sugar Frosted Flakes. Pops were Sugar Pops. Remember old Sugar Pops Pete here? "Oh, the pops are sweeter and the taste is new, they’re shot with sugar, through and through." My kids couldn’t believe that one. "I sweeten them up with my sugar-popper!"
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an article noting that research seems to indicate that kids (just kids?) watching more food ads will eat more. Interestingly, they don’t seem to necessarily crave the advertised product — they just eat more. So if you fill the house with more raisins and almonds and carrot sticks, they’ll eat more of that, just as they would eat more Twinkies and Root Beer if the house were full of that.
So what does any of this have to do with the post title above? Today I saw an advertisement for Purina stating that "…research shows that a diet of Purina Puppy Chow and Purina Dog Chow, when properly fed, can add years to your dog’s life." The italics, as you might guess, are my own. What does that mean, exactly?
In 2002, researchers at Nestle-Purina published the results of a study showing that dogs fed a calorie-restricted diet lived longer and healthier lives. They took Labrador Retrievers and paired littermates. One dog ate an "average" amount of food, and the other was fed 25% less. In other words, the "average dog" gets 4 cups a day and "healthy dog" gets 3 cups. The dogs getting 25% less to eat each day lived an average of two years longer, and the onset of age-related health problems was also delayed by years. Similar data had been found in rodent studies and many folks think that the data is probably applicable to people, as well, though it’s rather difficult to do the same kind of controlled study in humans.
The key here is that it wasn’t feeding Purina products that added those healthy years — it was staying lean and hungry all the time. Of course, you could say that the dogs who ate 25% fewer Purina products lived 2 years longer. That doesn’t make such good advertising copy, though, does it? Don’t get me wrong: I think Purina makes good pet foods and is a reputable company. I don’t think the ad is designed to get you to feed your dog less Purina Dog Chow, and that is what "…when properly fed" actually means in this context.
What’s the old saying? "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics." Something like that, I think. Reminds me of the old cold war joke where the Russians and the U.S.A. have a two-boat race. New York Times reports, "Americans Beat Russians". Pravda reports, "Russians finish second, Americans finish next-to-last".
Part of this complete breakfast indeed.