Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Açaí Fallacy

"A berry found deep in the Amazon rain forest is quickly becoming the latest health supplement craze!" This isn't a catchy phrase from an advertisement for a new superfuit. No, this an opening line to a semi-legitimate Fox News report on the acai berry. Unfortunately, much of the promotion for the acai berry is propaganda and takes away from a needed awareness of a balanced lifestyle.

After Dr. Perricone revealed the acai berry as his Number 1 'Superfood' on Oprah in July 2005, the hype and popularity of the fruit has skyrocketed. There are now a multitude of companies offering acai weight loss programs and others advocating the use of Colon Cleanse with the berry for optimal results. Big names like Naked Juices and V8 Juices (a subsidiary of Campbell Soups) have also jumped on the band wagon. Some scams even pose as fake news sources with hard-to-find disclaimers of their illegitimacy.

The problem here, besides the questionable sustainability of exporting an Amazonian fruit, is that "acai berries have no known health benefit that's any different than that of other similar fruits." People strive for simple answers to the complex problem of personal health. Today's information on nutrition is overwhelming. The consumer is constantly told to eat this, cut back on that food, or add another supplement to his/her diet. A lack of general knowledge of balanced dieting and living is rampant.

The government, with agencies such as the FDA, HHS, and USDA, needs to take a stronger stance on fighting this ignorance. With more effective education programs, the public will be able to see past the newest health craze and simply live a balanced lifestyle--a health program that has stood the test of time.


  1. I'm sure that the cost is associated with harvesting a Amazonian fruit as well as the transportation, but I've got to think that people believe that if it is expensive that it must be really good. Also the fact that it comes in a wine-like bottle, as shown in the news report, I'm sure makes it all the rage to upper-middle class people have the money and are looking for that special fix to look younger and maintain the all important self-image.

  2. I find the connection to public health most intriguing.

    I work at a community college in a rust-belt metropolitan area where the obesity rate has been ranked in the top 25 cities for obese adults (American Obesity Association & CDC).

    At the college where I work, a significant portion of the students test into developmental education (dev ed) courses, enough to make us a valuable participant in a national Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) program/study.

    Students enrolled in dev ed courses are under prepared for college-level work. The courses are a refresher in some cases and new learning in others. Dev ed & the DEI program look for new ways to help these students who are most academically at risk to understand the material and connect to the resources that will make them successful (e.g. tutoring, counseling, financial aid, computer access, etc.)- thus keeping up our retention and graduation rates.

    Why should a college put so much effort into teaching/graduating these students, and what is my point? Aside from the warm fuzzies everyone in higher ed gets when a student graduates, of course...Bottom line, it is extremely likely that federal funding for community colleges and perhaps all of higher education will be increasing dependent upon retention &/or graduation rates. So, while we care about whether the individual is a "hard worker", ultimately if they enroll in the college, the onus is on the college to help them be successful aka graduate (and continue to get funding).

    And my point: while we can blather on about individuals gorging themselves on crappy foods (ignoring, of course, issues about access to healthy foods and nutritional information) and then looking for quick, easy fixes to their weight problems, the bottom line again is money. Obese people cost more money than healthy ones. This is common sense, but there are stats too: Not only are obese people typically less productive and more likely to die younger (thus contributing less to the economy), they are more expensive to take care of as well (health care). The CDC says so:

    So I guess what I'm suggesting is an intrusive, "developmental nutrition and health care" model that gets over the "personal responsibility" crap and looks at the bottom line. Perhaps we will find some warm fuzzies (of helping people live longer, healthier lives) along the way. Cause if we don't, I'm not sure how we will afford to take care of the 1/3 of all adults (1/3 of 307,000,00 people in the US is a lot)...without bankrupting the system or simply denying them even emergency health care.

  3. @Ashley
    I understand your point, and the connection to developmental education is interesting. However, are you seriously suggesting that the solution is "an intrusive, 'developmental nutrition and health care' model that gets over the 'personal responsibility' crap and looks at the bottom line?" In other words, the FDA or some other governmental agency forces people to eat "right." The FDA already has recommendations in place, in the form of MyPyramid, but as you can read in other posts, the MyPyramid model is so far from perfect it might not be useful to any American and the "bottom line" they looked at was shaped as much by various lobbying groups as it was by public health concerns. Forcing the whole country to follow Michael Pollan's Food Rules would probably be much easier, although equally unlikely. The major problem however, is still the idea that some (presumably governmental) entity should be regulating someone's eating to make them a more economically productive citizen sounds just a tad totalitarian (to say nothing of the fact that neither a 1-size-fits-all model nor personalized nutrition plans for every citizen are even possible).

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