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According to a recent Prevention Institute study, most package labels on food items aimed at kids don’t tell the truth. Released through advocacy coalition Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments, “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children's Food” found that a startling 84 percent of products examined didn’t meet basic nutritional standards.
“We did the study because we want to be sure that what parents see is what they get,” explained study author and nutritionist Juliet Sims. “The results shocked us. More often than not, companies are telling parents food is healthy when it's not.”
The study looked at the front-of-package labeling on 58 children's products marketed as better-for-you. The nutritional content was compared against nutritional criteria derived from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the National Academies of Science. Despite the labels’ claims, the study discovered the following:
- More than half (57 percent) of the products looked at qualified as high-sugar, and 95 percent of them contained added sugar
- More than half (53 percent) were low in fiber.
- More than half (53 percent) didn’t contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables featured, 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
“Claiming Health” emphasizes that the current system, which allows food companies to decide what information is included on their front-of-package labels, doesn’t work. “Without FDA regulation, instead of giving more information to parents struggling to make the best decisions for their kids, the system is deceiving them,” says Sims. "The question is, do food companies want to be on the side of parents and give them helpful information, or don't they?”
Among the products flagged by the study as the “worst offenders” in accurately reporting their nutritional content were Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets, Dora the Explorer Fruit Shapes and Apple Jacks.
Prevention Institute and Strategic Alliance believe that the FDA should require uniform labeling standards for all products that employ front-of-package labels.
“Chronic diseases like diabetes are skyrocketing, and children are predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents,” observes Larry Cohen, executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Prevention Institute. “Parents want healthy food for their kids. They need food labels that reveal what's really inside, instead of emphasizing one healthy aspect to trick them into buying something fundamentally unhealthy. Mandatory front-of-package labeling guidelines will move us closer to food packages parents can trust.”
The study is available online at http://bit.ly/claiminghealth.
The Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments, a coalition of nutrition and physical activity advocates in California that examines corporate and government practices and the role of the environment in shaping eating and activity behaviors, is coordinated through the Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to placing prevention at the center of efforts to enhance community health, equity and well-being.