12 August 2010

Life: at your own risk

Warning labels have become part of the branding in cigarettes, and lately also on alcoholic beverages. But can we really protect everyone from everything?


According to a news report, French politicians want to stamp a "health warning" on photographs of models that are altered in order to make them more appealing; part of a campaign against eating disorders. And good for them, I say.

Of course, it would be more useful to just start using realistic pictures, rather than photographs where models have been photoshopped into states of hyper-perfection. After all, a picture is worth more than a thousand-word warning.

But it started me thinking: where else could we post health warnings to protect us from ourselves?

This warning is overdue
Well, an obvious beginning would be on all fast food and anything edible that's been over-refined: "This product has been overwhelmingly implicated in heart disease, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Eat at your own risk."

Yes, you can smile, but generally foodstuffs only carry positive health information, such as a thumbs-up from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, except for the ubiquitous peanut warning. We are led to believe that people in developing countries pretty much only ever die from smoking and obesity. Isn't it time for dire health warnings on anything containing trans fat, sugar or salt?

And, of course, alcohol. We could spend all day thinking up apt warnings for booze: "Note: Ingestion of more than four units of this beverage may impair perception, and make everyone around you appear very desirable."

User beware

Then the sillier, but weirdly dangerous, places occurred to me, like:

  • Six-inch heels: "This footwear causes discomfort and has been implicated in ankle injuries."
  • What about swimwear? Anything smaller than a full-body wetsuit should carry a warning: "If not worn in conjunction with an SPF50 sunscreen at all times, this tiny garment may lead to skin cancer."
  • And, best of all, credit cards: "This piece of plastic must be used with utmost caution. Indiscriminate use may lead to stress, crime, starvation and, in extreme cases, death by suicide."
  • Cars, motorbikes, mountain bikes, skateboards, toddlers, adolescents, mothers-in-law and iPods should all carry warnings.

Then I stopped thinking about it because, if you peel this particular onion for long enough, you realise that life itself should come with a warning label: "This all ends. If used well and with proper maintenance, it should last for quite a while, but the manufacturers cannot take responsibility for unforeseen events. Enjoy wisely, but enjoy."

(Joanne Hart, Health24, September 2009)

Read more:
Is all stress bad for you?
Health warnings on burgers and chips




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