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Industry Decides What’s “Better for You”

Posted by tinako on August 24, 2010

As part of the Yale Psych 123 class I’m auditing, I looked over the materials at the BBB website “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.”  The ostensible point of this program is to reign in advertising of unhealthy foods to children.  Participation is voluntary, and the food companies set their own standards.  Are you already wondering why anyone at the BBB bothered to show up to the meetings?

I saw this list of “Better For You” products that the companies approved to market to children, and was naively surprised to see exactly the foods I assumed would be the targeted for removal, such as Capri Sun Juice Drinks.  In what specific way is Capri Sun with 10% juice better for you than other individual drink choices, such as Juicy Juice, Minute Maid, and Apple & Eve, all 100% juice?  Or are they suggesting that it’s “better for you” than 0% juice, e.g. soda-pop?  That’s a pretty low standard.  I think today’s theme will be, “Better Than What?”

I noticed Pop Tarts’ only whole-grain variety was on the list.  I was wondering why only one variety was made healthier (barely), and whether, when the child gets to the supermarket, he or she might, with the Pop Tarts brand firmly planted in mind, choose from the dizzying variety without noticing which one had whole grains.

I picked a few other products to analyze.  I found that the cereals I checked out, such as Trix and Cookie Crisp, were healthier than I would have thought before I looked into them a little while back.  I used Burger King’s convenient online calculator to get the profile for a “Better for You” Hamburger Kids Meal with Apple Fries with caramel dipping sauce (fresh apples sliced and packaged to look like fries), and apple juice.   Let’s compare that to a Subway Veggie Delite Kids Meal with apple slices and juice box:

BK Kids Hamburger Meal Subway Veggie Delite Kids Meal
Calories 430 285
Fat 11.5 g 1.5 g
Sat Fat 4 g 0
Cholesterol 30 mg 0
Sugar 36g (10 from the apples and caramel, 21 from the juice) 31 g (28 from the fruit)
Protein 14 g 6 g
Sodium 580 mg 295 mg
Fiber ? 5 g

I picked another product at random from the BBB list, Kids Cuisine Carnival Corn Dog.  The nutritional info there first trumpets that it has 1 c of the recommended 2.5 c of vegetables; I wonder if that’s the french fries or the corn?  To compare, here is a frozen meal that would probably also appeal to kids, Amy’s Enchilada.  Still too high in sodium, but with almost the same amount of protein as the corndog meal, it has more fiber, less than half the fat, no cholesterol, 20% of the sugar, and is organic.

Kids Cuisine Carnival Corn Dog Amy’s Whole Meal Black Bean Enchilada
Calories 420 330
Fat 12 g 8 g
Sat Fat 3 g 1 g
Cholesterol 30 mg 0
Sugar 20 g 4 g
Protein 10 g 9 g
Sodium 660 mg 740 mg
Fiber 7 g 9 g

Kid Cuisine’s maker ConAgra’s self-selected maximums include the decision that any sodium under 760 mg is “better for you”.  The real value of this industry-determined program appears to be to keep industry off the hook.  They may have made some baby steps in improving their products, but we don’t need baby steps at this point, we need strides.

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