bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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When is a strawberry not a strawberry?: The marketing of food to children

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

One of my twitter friends recently posted the photo shown above and asked his followers to discuss the marketing of healthy foods; i.e. fruits and vegetables to children. My immediate reaction was to say that this was at least a better practice than the ubiquitous marketing of “junk” food to children. At least these popular characters are promoting something that parents and healthcare professionals are always trying to get kids to eat more of. Maybe if mum can’t get her child to eat a carrot Bugs Bunny can (I don’t know if kids even know who Bugs Bunny is these days but you know what I mean). Then I thought about it a little bit more.

Do strawberries really need TV characters to get kids to eat them? Strawberries are fairly popular amongst all ages, no? What about the leafy greens, the root vegetables, the mushrooms? Who benefits from this type of marketing? Not the children who aren’t gaining exposure to new foods. Not the parents who now have to deal with their children demanding expensive out-of-season fruit. Not the farmer who makes very little of the actual retail price of her/his product. Some marketing company I suppose.

What about all the other strawberries? Even if you argue that this type of marketing is getting kids to consume more fruit the fact is, it’s only getting children to consume more of one specific brand of one specific variety of fruit. What impact might this have on local farmers who don’t have kid-friendly characters on their packaging? This type of marketing does nothing to support local in-season fruit and vegetable consumption.

Besides the strawberries and the farmers does this type of marketing harm children? Possibly. As many argued after the Eat Right! debacle of putting the Academy of Dietetics logo on processed cheese slices, dietitians shouldn’t be lending their name to any food. Healthy eating isn’t about any one particular food, it’s about the broader diet. Putting a dietetic organization’s logo on a food product is not only a vote for that single food, it’s a vote against all of the other foods that don’t feature the logo. In a similar vein, marketing of specific foods to children promotes those foods and those foods alone. It makes food more about sales and marketing than it does about health and enjoyment. We don’t need to bombard children with more messages to consume (both in a figurative and in a literal sense) than we already do. Let’s make food more about food and less about profit.


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Showing a little KINDness to KIND bars

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Last week everyone got all in a kerfuffle because KIND bars were told that they were not allowed to use the term “healthy” to market their snacks by the FDA. Since I’ve promoted KIND bars on here in the past (my first, and only, giveaway) I felt that I should weigh in on the subject.

In my opinion, as far as snack bars go, many KIND bars are a damn sight better than the alternatives. Many of them contain only about a teaspoon of sugar, compare that to upwards of six teaspoons in other snack bars. They are all nut-based, which is a nice change from the refined ingredients in many granola bars. The packaging on KIND bars doesn’t actually state “healthy”. This was a claim made on the KIND website. If you want to see some misleading packaging, just take a walk down the granola bar aisle. Here are just a few examples that I found:

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I understand that the FDA and CFIA need to ensure that food manufacturers aren’t using terms willy nilly. Otherwise you’d have every bottle of pop, chocolate bar, and bag of chips claiming some sort of health promoting abilities or ingredient. But really, really? I think that all this incident does is to highlight the difficulty with food marketing and health and nutrition claims. “Healthy” is a relative term and the criteria the FDA has used to define it may not fit for everyone. As you know, the negative effect of dietary saturated fat (especially from plant sources) has recently been called into question. Using specific nutrient quantities to determine whether or not a product can be marketed as “healthy” is tricky, and frankly not all that useful. You’re far better off reading the ingredients and making your own decision as to whether or not you want to include a particular food in your diet.


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Nutella, no longer part of a nutritious breakfast

Even though I never blogged about it at the time, my annoyance with Nutella and its marketing were the catalyst for this blog I did write a post about it later. I received an insert in a magazine featuring a dietitian extolling the virtues of Nutella as part of a healthy breakfast in conjunction with Breakfast for Learning programs. It seemed unethical to me that a dietitian would be promoting such a nutritionally bereft food as part of a child’s breakfast. People have been fooled into thinking that this food (which, while admittedly delicious) is healthy when it essentially turns a piece of toast into a chocolate bar.

My favourite disturbing Nutella story was told to me by one of my best friends. She was standing in line at the grocery store and the woman in front of her was buying a jar of Nutella. This Nutella purchaser and the cashier started discussing how yummy and healthy Nutella is. My friend couldn’t stand idly by and was compelled to interject that Nutella is delicious but it is not actually a healthy food choice and that it’s full of sugar. The women looked at the label and saw that sugar was the first ingredient. This is both a lesson in our susceptibility to marketing and the importance of label reading.

Last week parents won a class action lawsuit against Nutella. Usually I think that these sorts of lawsuits are a little ridiculous but in this case I think that it sets a great precedent. This win sends a message to the food industry that it is not okay to make false claims about the food you’re selling. It’s not saying that Nutella should be banned, it’s just saying that Nutella should stop pretending to be a health food when it’s really a treat.


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Follow Friday: Mindless Eating

As a dietitian with a degree in psychology I find the work of Brian Wansink at Cornell University endlessly fascinating. His website is: Mindless Eating and he’s also authored a book by the same name. His work helps to show us why we eat what we eat and why we eat as much of it as we do. He’s a big proponent of the effect of our food environment on our food consumption, as am I, and as you should be. If you’re interested in learning how to stop yourself from dipping into the candy bowl at work or all the little tricks that food companies and restaurants use to make us buy and eat more of their foods then you should definitely check out his work.