July 3 2013

Guilt-Plagued Moms Want Information, Not Alarmism

Huffington Post - Parents

Julie Gunlock and Kellyanne Conway

New reports show that a growing number of women in the U.S. are primary breadwinners for their households, but they still also carry the bulk of the home-life responsibilities. To add to women's stress, shock-the-conscience headlines about the products they use and the food they eat swarms them. "Pregnant Women Should Stay Away From Cosmetics, Packed Food Items." "Your House Might be Making You Sick." "Toxic Chemical Found in Kids' Clothes and Pajamas." Such headlines -- often with advice in conflict -- bombard women daily.

Rather than make women feel more informed and empowered, the alarmist onslaught makes them feel guilty, confused, even angry, while doing little to alter their choices and behaviors. Those are among the findings from a recent national poll of 801 women by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend for the Independent Women's Forum, which suggest that society could benefit from a reset on how we handle conversations about risk and healthy living.

The polling company, inc. found that two-thirds of women are concerned about the direction of the country, but -- not surprisingly -- mothers are more likely to be concerned. While women raising children in the 1970s and 1980s might have worried more about war, nuclear holocaust, and world hunger, today, women are increasingly anxious about matters closer to home, like whether they are doing their best to promote the health and well-being of their families.

This constant worrying naturally gives rise to mommy guilt (and non-mommy guilt) -- a condition the poll found pervasive among women; two-thirds (66 percent) of those surveyed said they sometimes feel guilty for not doing enough to eat right and live healthily. Those polled who have children at home and single parents have slightly more guilt than those who have never had children. This guilt drives women to seek more information about the products they purchase. In fact, three-out-of-four women report to paying careful attention to health and safety warnings. Yet, as the poll shows, women don't know whom to trust to get the facts.

Given their popularity, one would assume many women rely on the media for health and wellness information. Yet, as the poll shows, distrust of the media -- the biggest purveyors of alarmist information -- is widespread (58 percent) across all age, ethnic, and ideological lines. Women broadly agree that the media are more interested in getting ratings than accurately reporting threats to health and safety. While women may distrust the media, the media's alarmism is effective: The poll confirms that the more women pay attention to the alarmist messages disseminated by the media, the more concerned they become. Yet no more informed.

Women also distrust alternative sources of information, such as activist organizations that promote stricter government oversight of consumer goods. In fact, when asked if they had altered their habits, use, or purchase of products based on the warnings of one of these activist organizations, 60 percent of women polled said no. In this case, the messenger's lack of credibility transfers to the message.

Women also had little faith in the warnings and information provided by the federal government. Just 15 percent had a high level of confidence in government warnings, compared to 28 percent who had little trust at all. Not surprisingly, the poll also showed that women do not see an effective role for the federal government in helping them navigate choices or to makes smart decisions. A full 63 percent of women say government intervention, by means of regulating food and other consumer choices, has either no effect or a counter-productive impact on personal lives and improved health.

So, who can help make our society healthier? Women know the answer: It's up to all of us as individuals to take responsibility for the choices we make: A large majority (76 percent) admitted that their poor decisions were a matter of choice, not access. Even more compelling, minority women and those women living in lower-income households -- a demographic often characterized as living in "food deserts" where access to healthy food is thought to be limited -- agree strongly that healthy options are universally available.

Women want information to help them make good choices, but an overwhelming majority of women say they have difficulty discerning between legitimate risks and scary headlines designed to attract attention. The onslaught of negative information leaves many women reporting feeling confused, suspicious, annoyed, and even angry, rather than just informed.

Women want to protect and provide for themselves and their families. They see themselves -- not government or activists with an agenda -- as the key to better health, and they want to be able to rely on accurate information to help them accomplish that goal. If we want a healthier, happier populace, we must equip them accurate and sensible -- not alarmist -- information.

Julie Gunlock is director of the Culture of Alarmism project at the Independent Women's Forum. Kellyanne Conway is president and CEO of the Polling Company, inc. and WomanTrend.

 

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