Tom Karst, National EditorNo one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” goes a paraphrase of a quote from H.L. Mencken, an early 20th century journalist and social critic.
Put another way, people get rich by low-balling the smarts of the American people.
Most folks can be fooled and never know it.
This elitist assumption, though, takes a drubbing with the news of a new research report that reveals that 93% of the American people can use common sense to predict the conclusions of most so-called scientific research.
April Fools! No such study has been published, but the reality of blatantly obvious research findings is plainly seen, particularly for health-related research.
When it comes to reading about new research relating to consumer behavior and food, I find myself thinking, “Tell me something I didn’t know.”
For example, here is a media report of a study that shows “kids of better educated parents have healthier diets.”
The study, published in the March issue of Public Health Nutrition, showed that children of parents with low and medium levels of education ate fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed foods and sweet drinks.
By way of contrast, parents with higher levels of education were more likely to feed their children foods with more nutritional value, including vegetables, fruit, pasta, rice and whole-grain bread.
That is a “dog bites man” story. The “man bites dog” story would be if kids of less educated parents have healthier diets.
Another true-to-expectations story I stumbled upon found that consumers on the Pacific Coast and the Northeast — drum roll, please — cared the most about the nutritional value of their food compared with other U.S. regions.
The Experian Simmons National Consumer Survey from 2012 revealed that 24.6% of those in the Pacific region “strongly agreed” with the statement that “Nutritional value is the most important factor in the foods I eat.”
The Northeast also rated high, with 23.1% of consumers in the “strongly” agree category.
You, like me, probably could guess that the regions of the country with the least regard for nutritional value are the Central (17.8% strongly agree) and the Southeast (19.8% strongly agree).
Again, not too shocking that folks in Monterey, Calif., are more nutrition conscious than in Des Moines, Iowa.
We know ourselves and we know our food.
To all of us, the surprising finding would be if blueberries clog the arteries, or if citrus produced chest congestion.
The expectation that any health research on fresh produce consumption will yield a favorable finding tends to dull those findings when they are inevitably published. Guess what? Apples are good for us!
I knew that — of course they are.
The public believes that fruits and vegetables are good for them, so it is not surprising to them that research finding upon research finding reaffirms that conviction. Fiber here, phytochemicals there — it’s all good.
Virtually everything good about increasing fresh produce consumption and the resulting connection to health has been published, from heart health to cancer prevention to weight management.
The challenge for produce marketers is to make those “obvious” findings exciting and life-changing, particularly to folks in Des Moines.
And those who try to grab attention and make news by making surprising or shocking claims about hidden dangers of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables — see the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group — should not be allowed to profit.
The strategy of underestimating and insulting the intelligence of the American consumer cannot stand. At least 93% of us agree.
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