Deceptive Marketing in Kids’ Food Can Fool Parents Too

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Studies have been out for years reflecting on the numerous amount of food advertisements that consumers are bombarded with everyday, most of which market extremely unhealthy products. More importantly, advocacy groups continue to debate the vast number of ads that are directed towards children encouraging sugary, fatty foods through enticing and clever commercials. Kids are easily swayed to choose food based on how they are packaged. For example, a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication discovered that pairing food with cartoons can even lead kids to say that the food tastes better. Because of this, parents are usually assigned the responsibility, and even blame, for how their children eat. Parents must use their own discretion when buying groceries to give their children a balanced diet.

But what about when supposedly "healthy" foods turn out to be weak in their health claims? Can parents really know what items in the grocery store are actually nutritious for their children?

Uncovering Misleading Health Claims

A recent study by the Prevention Institute broke some troubling news about the true nutritional value of common food products specifically marketed to kids. There were 58 items in various food groups that were put to the test, including such favorites as Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Skippy Super Chunk Peanut Butter, and Rice Krispies cereal. Researchers used the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" to determine how healthy these food products were based on levels of fat, sugar, fiber, and sodium. Surprisingly enough, 49 out of the 58 test cases were deemed unhealthy from these government standards. Even more shocking is the fact that all of the food products were advocated as nutritious by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The study demands an overhaul by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create more strict standards for food packaging.

Recent Legal Settlements

Even so, some crackdowns have occurred as shown in the 2010 settlements by Nestle and Kellogg with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Nestle claimed that their "Boost Kid Essentials" drink could "prevent illness, increase immunity, and reduce school absences" due to probiotic bacteria in the product. The FTC rejected this claim due to lack of scientific evidence and demanded the removal of such labeling. Kellogg committed a double offense with their Frosted Mini-Wheats that were claimed to "improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20 percent" and Rice Krispies that "help support your child’s immunity." Because the FDA is supposed to handle such cases normally, it shows the weakness of the system and the need for additional support from other regulatory bodies to act against these "dubious claims."

Taking a Closer Look

In addition to deceptive health claims, sometimes the wording or framing of the product can hide important nutritional details until given a closer look. For example, according to KidsHealth.org, you should be wary of items that claim to be "all natural" or "pure" because they may be filled with sugar. Furthermore, low-fat foods may contain large amounts of sugar as well to keep the product tasting good without the extra fat.

It’s unfortunate that parents must so carefully navigate the grocery aisles in search for foods that are actually healthy. It’s easy to be attracted by claims and key words that imply healthy benefits. By paying attention to the levels of fat, sugar, fiber, and sodium in a product, you can ensure that you are buying a truly nutritious food or drink for your child.

 

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