Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Kid’s Food Advertising Falsely Claims Health Benefits

A new study finds that kids' food isn't as healthy as the front of the boxes might claim.

cereal

Photo: mroach (flickr)

Cereals were some of the worst offenders when it came to false advertising

A new study that came out last week found 84 percent of kids’ healthy advertised food really isn’t healthy at all.

The FDA regulates what companies put on the side of their boxes, but advertisers have found a way to sneak past that rule by putting health statements on the front of their packages.

The Product List

Researchers at the nonprofit Prevention Institute picked a representative sample of products from a list created by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Of the 58 products examined, 84 percent did not meet basic nutritional criteria, contrary to what their package-front labels promised.

What The Study Found

  • More than half (57 percent) of the study products qualified as high sugar, and an astonishing 95 percent of products contained added sugar.
  • More than half (53 percent) were low in fiber.
  • More than half (53 percent) of products did not contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just two ingredients — tomatoes and corn.
  • 24 percent of prepared foods were high in saturated fats.
  • More than one-third (36 percent) of prepared foods and meals were high in sodium.

The FDA’s Role

Advertisers and companies are using this front-of-package tactic to mislead consumers into thinking their products are healthier than they really are. Because the current federal regulations aren’t strict enough to limit this kind of advertising, the Grocery Manufacturers of American (GMA) took things into their own hands.

Instead of waiting for the nutrition guide that the government commissioned, earlier this week the food industry leaders revealed their own front-of-pack labeling guide called Nutrition Keys. The Nutrition Keys, which manufacturers will voluntarily put on the front of all food packaging, will show the amount of calories, fat, sodium, and total sugars as well as two positive vitamins present in the food.

The Future

Given that the GMA has left The Nutrition Keys labeling guide up to the individual food companies, until the FDA mandates regulation for front-of-package labeling, food company’s will continue to deceive customers with false health benefits.

Read More:

  • Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food (Prevention Institute)
  • More Calls to Overhaul Deceptive Front-of-Package Labeling (Time)
  • The Food Industry Jumps The FDA, Releases Its Own Nutrition Guide (Earth Eats)
Katie Dawson

Katie Dawson is a sophomore at IU majoring in journalism and Spanish. Currently she lives in Bloomington, IN but is originally from Indianapolis. She enjoys cooking, eating and sometimes exercising.

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  • srmccab

    I guess I always assumed that a majority of the food advertised as such was not truly healthy, but 84 percent–wow! I think this is a perfect example of how clever marketing and a lack of cohesive regulatory labeling rules allows for deceptive marketing. And I agree that I think that GMA's decision to come out with front-of-the-box labels could help with this, I think there is still a need for genuine, objective label regulations from the FDA. For one thing, the GMA's new labels will also include nutrients, which can still mislead the customer into purchasing a product that is not any more healthy for them. I think it's this ulterior motive to disguise products as healthy in order to sell them that makes it impossible for the industry to regulate itself and come up with truly helpful labels.

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