Why Aren’t We Talking About This?

I recently took a class called “The Biological Effects of Aging” and discovered much more than the fact that humans get old. I was most surprised with regard to the statistics surrounding potentially terminal disorders such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer – 70% of these diseases are preventable through lifestyle and environmental changes (Digiovanna, 2000). While as a society, we are encouraged to lead an active and healthy lifestyle, the methods of delivery for this message are not in line with social psychological research, e.g., informational appeal and fear appeal (PSWC, 2020). Looking over the history of nutrition in the United States, food pyramids have significantly changed every 10 to 15 years beginning in 1916, having gone from 7 food groups down to 4. Education, accessibility, and economics have been major contributors to these changes, however, as our knowledge has increased, our dissemination of this information has not changed.

Health and nutrition have been presented as “recommendations”, suggesting 30 minutes of exercise a day and a “balanced diet”. Meanwhile, substances such as drugs, alcohol, and smoking have seen campaigns touting the dangers and life-threating consequences. Back in the 1970s, movies and television often displayed smoking as cool and befitting a particular image, though that was before we understood the connections between smoking and lung cancer. Now, we hardly see smoking in movies aside from “shady” or “undesirable” characters, which are subtly used to emphasize the negativity of smoking. We know that sugar is dangerous, as it not only leads to tooth decay, but also diabetes and auto-immune disorders. Yet, we don’t see the dangers of sugar being taught in schools or displayed in movies or television in the same fashion. Likewise, current studies have stated that a lack of exercise is worse for the body than smoking and is, in fact, one of the major killers in the modern era (Booth, Robert, Laye, 2012).

While diet fads, gyms, and personal trainers are taking advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge surrounding these issues, social psychologists should be collaborating to find ways to inform the public in a sensible and cohesive manner. Similar to the way genetic scientists worked together for the Human Genome Project, biopsychosocial experts should be collaborating on campaigns aimed at educating the public on ways to prevent disease through health and nutritional measures. These measures could involve programs targeted towards eating for disease prevention, e.g., cruciferous vegetables support liver function, berries produce antioxidants, whole grains support digestive health, etc.

If health and fitness became a cultural norm, rather than a cultural ideal, we could all encourage each other to become healthier. In order for this to happen, we need to educate the public on the real-life implications that our choices and behaviors have on our health. If we are to implement such changes, we need to do so in a fundamental way by informing the wider population that certain food and lifestyle choices are seriously detrimental to our health, as opposed to the current way in which we categorize “unhealthy” foods or behaviors. Compliance remains the biggest issue surrounding health and fitness, but until we can be honest in our assessment and use factual, transparent information in our education, we will continue to believe it is something beyond our control.



A Brief History of USDA Food Guides. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/brief-history-usda-food-guides

Booth, F. W., Roberts, C. K., & Laye, M. J. (2012, April 1). Lack of Exercise Is a Major Cause of Chronic Diseases. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cphy.c110025

DiGiovanna, A. G. (2000). Human aging: biological perspectives. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 424 Lesson 5: Health and Clinical / Counseling. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040175/modules/items/28379748

The Human Genome Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.genome.gov/human-genome-project


  1. I couldn’t agree more- health and fitness should become cultural norm, and what better way to start that process than educating the public on the effects that nutrition and exercise can have on their health. To be honest, until few years ago when I started experiencing consequences of poor nutrition and lack of exercise, I was as clueless as the next person about what those effects might be.
    Interesting fact- not only that exercise can help dealing with (preventing or improve the prognosis of) chronic diseases associated with modern lifestyle (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc), but that, depending on the type of exercise, it can have psychological benefits as well. Investigating health benefits of different recreative sport disciplines, Pluhar et al. (2019) have found that psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety are almost half as prevalent in people recreationally playing team sports compared to people playing individual sports. Additionally, Laszlo et al. (2019) claim that recreational basketball exercise is, along with decreased blood pressure and body fat percentage, and increased bone-mineral density, associated with reduced symptoms of schizophrenia.
    Exercise is, naturally, only half of the equation. Balanced diet is at least as important. Modern life style brings along modern dietary habits- namely fast, processed, and sugary foods. Fast foods are created to accommodate fast life style (where people don’t have time for food preparation), and sweet foods are human kind’s all time favorites, as ever since our hunter-and-gatherers beginnings there was no sweet food that was poisonous; thus, it has had clear evolutionary advantages over most of other foods available throughout our history.
    Changes in people’s dietary habits will therefore, in my mind, be more challenging to enforce, as eating sweets for instance feels much more natural to us than inactivity.
    For any significant changes to occur though, there should be large-scale systematic action taken; people should be made aware of both positive effects of exercise and balanced diet and negative effects of lack of exercise and unbalanced diet to their health. It has definitely worked for me.


    Pluhar, E., McCracken, C., Griffith, K.L., Christino, M.A., Sugimoto, D., & Meehan III, W.P. (2019). Team Sport Athletes May Be Less Likely to Suffer Anxiety or Depression Than Individual Sport Athletes. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 18 (3).

    Laszlo, R., Betlehem, J., Calleja-Gonzales, J., & Ostojic, S.M. (2019). Basketball for Health. Should We Hop and Shoot for a Remedy? Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 94 (2).

  2. Rebecca Mary Esther Zimmerman

    I loved all my biobehavioral health courses. The biological effects of ages course, was one of my first, of my science option for my bachelors. To dive in, I find it very unfortunate how the food pyramid and “diet fads” controlled the minds of families and individuals. Carbohydrates and insulin spikes are the major contributing factor to a poor diet. It really makes you think about the information presented and what other information is flawed. Cardiovascular disease, narrowed or blocked blood vessels are a major result of poor diets and lack of exercise. Obesity rates are beyond explanation. A quick google search indicated more than 3 million cases per year in United States. Campaigns such as “big is beautiful,” “my body, my life,” are extremely detrimental to society. Biologically, our skeletal structure is not made to hold heavy weight, nor are our organs. Women and men in the 50’s were rarely overweight. We went from a society where men worked strenuous jobs (jobs that kept their body active), to an influx in office work with outrageous overtime. You see less home gardens and sustainable living due to the overworked American. Highly impacted by the rises in taxes, housing, food, clothing costs. Out west, you can not rent an apartment without 1st, last month rent, and a full security deposit. Then you have governmental programs giving all these resources away to people that often take advantage of not working, or having too many children for tax cuts. Society absolutely needs a wake up call. We went from hardworking Americans to being spoon fed. The middle class has it the worst. I’m not saying there are not hardworking men and women out there or people that don’t truly need government assistance. I am saying there has been a gradual decline in the well-being of Americans and an increase for pharmaceutical needs. Knowledge is power and I encourage knowledge to be spread on the importance of a well balance diet (limited carbs, natural fats, high proteins and vegetables) and EXERCISE. There are people out there that think juice is a beneficial component to a balanced diet. Fruit (other than berries) is completely full of sugar. I could speak on this topic all day. I am glad you gained valuable knowledge from your biobehavioral course. The information is insightful, informative and a life changer!

  3. Your argumentation and examples are excellent and I can just more than agree with you on the inconsistent methods our government exhibits, when it comes to healthy eating. With the sugar industry being a big lobbyist and giving politicians up to $57.8 million between 1994 and 2016 (OrlandoSentinel.com), our perception of what is good and what is bad for us has been shaped by false statements and publications.
    Years ago, fat was blamed for our cardio vascular diseases. Years later, with low-fat foods taking over the shelfs in supermarkets, our society is as obese and sick as never before (Steward, Bethea, Andrews, & Balart). Diabetes and obesity among children is on the rise. Scientists tell us over and over again, consuming too much sugar makes us sick. But as you stated in your blog, there are no warning signs on sugar packages or sugary foods to warn us of the consequences. I miss the ‘fear appeal’ we learned about in our class (Gruman, Schneider & Coutts, 2012), that is used with graphic pictures of lungs on cigarette packages or graphic pictures of deformed embryos to warn pregnant women to not drink alcohol. Why are there no fatty liver pictures or clogged artery pictures on soda cups or on candy packages? As always, the pharma industry is happy, because they can sell more insulin and medications, the sugar industry rubs their hands because business is good as always and the politicians go on filling their own pockets. And we? We will go on getting heart attacks and strokes.

    Steward, H. L., Bethea, M., Andrews, S., & Balart, L. (2009). The new sugar busters!: Cut sugar to trim fat. Ballantine Books.

    Sugar industry gave $57.8 million to politicians, reports show. (2016, July 12). Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/politics/os-sugar-industry-political-donations-20160712-story.html

    Gruman, J.A., Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications

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