Maggie Baumann, MA: As a therapist dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of eating disorders -- anorexia, bulimia and binge eating -- I was troubled to hear of a new advertising campaign for baby carrots. The campaign, backed by over 50 baby-carrot producers, is aiming to create a new brand identity for baby carrots by using ads that mimic those for junk food. The ads subtly play on our societal obsession with sugar and fatty foods, in the hopes that we'll chomp on these "babe" carrots and "Eat 'Em Like Junk Food."
A billboard for this campaign recently popped up in Cincinnati, where the campaign is being launched; it featured a bright orange image of baby carrots and the words, "BINGE BETTER." Cincinnati resident and eating-disorder therapist Ashley Solomon, PsyD, drove by the billboard last week, and it caused her jaw to literally drop in astonishment. "This campaign -- and particularly this billboard -- seems ... to dismiss our cultural disease of excess, support mindless [eating] and overeating and attenuate the seriousness of binge eating and binge-eating disorder," she says.
The campaign also features a website with a violent "carrot crunch-powered" video game, and television spots featuring sexualized women lusting over carrots. (Click this link to see the video.) OK: We are talking about carrots here -- vegetables that are good for our bodies. However, attaching a harmful message about bingeing isn't healthy for anyone. Binge eating is a serious disorder, and it's not to be made light of -- even with a healthy snack.
The health risks of binge-eating disorder are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity. They include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
Ashley Solomon, a blogger who is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders, recently posted her thoughts about the campaign, stating, "While I can certainly appreciate any effort to inspire youth to eat healthier, instructing them to BINGE?! This is where I draw the line. Once again, we seem to be missing the point. Whether you binge on Doritos, Oreos or tofu, binging -- which involves a short period of excessive consumption -- is unhealthy .... Our society did not develop an obesity epidemic simply by eating Doritos. We developed it by using food -- all food, carrots included -- in a way that does not respect our bodies. We fail to eat mindfully, and we do not eat based on our bodies. Instead, we eat in a state of automaticity. We binge."
The baby-carrot campaign is certainly attention-grabbing, and the edgy packaging (the carrots come in crinkly, festive bags that are reminiscent of chip bags) is youth-oriented. However, the encouragement to binge on any food is a dangerous one, and this campaign's ultimate message treads on dangerous ground that may affect many people with unhealthy food rituals and eating disorders. Professionals in the eating-disorder treatment field, such as Ashley Solomon and myself, think the marketing team that came up with this campaign should go back to the drawing board. A healthier message must be out there!