National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

“No 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.

 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.

Likewise, 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,  phytochemical there – it’s all good.

Virtually everything good about increasing fresh produce consumption and the resulting connection to human 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.

 And those who try to grab attention and make news by saying  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.