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The Dangers of Cascading Dietary Trends

This article from the New York Times directly discusses the cascade effect, and particularly how it can be dangerous in promoting false ideas, especially when the choices to support them or not are binary – which is often is, and how false cascades can be turned around. This article uses the example of dietary trends, which are certainly numerous. It doesn’t go into much depth, no one will deny that people are looking for the easiest, fastest way to diet, and they’re constantly jumping on the next bandwagon that comes along when the last one didn’t worked. Many diet fads have been debunked – the Atkins diet is a thing of the past. Most “easy” diets don’t work. Weight Watchers is perhaps the longest-running dietary trend, but it works because portion control works, and that’s hard – it just makes it as easy as it can be. If there’s the slightest intuition behind a diet, people will follow it. Years later, some concrete data will disprove it, and only then will people change their minds.

This directly relates to the cascade model from class – people receive either positive or negative signals regarding a dietary trend, whether from friends or nutrition specialists, and make a decision based on the information available. If the majority of your information is simply what other people are doing, then that will sway your decision greatly. As more and more people support a trend (and there are fewer that flat-out oppose it), that influence becomes greater. This is the definition of a fad – but most fads aren’t right or wrong. Dietary fads, however, can be based on incomplete or false information, and that’s where the cascade effect is dangerous. After people follow a diet and consistently see no positive results, they will start reassessing their opinions, and this will cascade until it overcomes the previous consensus. This is how ideas change, theories are disproved, and laws are overturned.


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