Front of Package Labeling of Children’s Food

A new study by the Prevention Institute, called “Claiming Health”, examines front of package labeling children’s food. Their findings are not promising.

The study examines 58 products aimed at children that have front of package labeling on them. The term “front of package labeling” refers to a single graphic meant to summarize the nutrient content of the food. The graphic might be anywhere on the label, although it’s often found on the front of the package (hence the term). Many front of package labeling schemes have been used in the past 15 years, such as Kellogg’s Smart Choices check mark and Wal-Mart’s new (soon to come) label.

The 58 products were selected from the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative’s product list. Manufacturers decide which products get put on that list and agree to limit advertising aimed at children under twelve to those products. The idea is that the items on the list are healthier. The list includes such kid favorites as SpaghettiOs, Fruit Roll-Ups, and plenty of sugary cereals.

How Did the Children’s Foods Fare?

Using the nutrition labels on the packages, the Prevention Institute checked for certain nutrient criteria:

  • less than 35% of calories from fat
  • less than 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • less than 25% of calories from sugars
  • sodium – less than 600 mg for meal items and less than 480 mg for non-meal items
  • less than 1.25 g of fiber

84% of the products did not meet one or more of those nutrient criteria.

Cereals were the biggest offender. 90% of the cereals were high in sugar and 60% were low in fiber, according to the nutrient criteria. For snacks, 90% were high in sugar and 90% were low in fiber.

Added Sugars and a Lack of Whole Foods

The study also checked if the foods contained added sugars and if they contained whole foods. 95% of the foods contained added sugars in a variety of forms. As for whole foods, with blueberries being faked in foods marketed to grown-ups, why would there be real fruits in kids’ products?  The study found very few fruits and vegetables in the foods aimed at children.  Mostly, they found corn and tomatoes.

These are the foods that manufacturers have determined are their best options for children. I think they could do better. Or we could just feed our children whole foods.

Read the report: Claiming Health (pdf format)

Image by theimpulsivebuy, used with Creative Commons license.

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