My two young girls are mad about Froot Loops, the brightly coloured, sugar-laden cereal snack that turns parents naggy whenever their kids pick them up from the store shelves for obvious reasons – they are too unhealthy to be indulged in and there are far too many wiser choices of sweet treats such as fresh fruits, yoghurts, and honey sticks.
Recently, much to my disgust, I learned from the news that in a food-labeling campaign to help shoppers identify healthier food choices, Froot Loops has been given a Smart Choice checkmark! How did such a sugary snack win its endorsement as a nutritionally superior food for kids? What criteria are being used by the Smart Choice program run by food consortiums and nutrition experts? For sure you don’t need to be a nutritionist to know the great amount of processed sugar in that cereal. You instantly know it when you put them in your mouth! And by just doing a little research, you’ll find out that it is 41 percent processed white sugar and contains processed flour, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, and synthetic colouring chemicals. So, isn’t this too blatant a move, especially in these days when so many kids and parents are so deeply troubled by the obesity epidemic?
What came across as the biggest ridicule is how Dr Eileen Kennedy, dean of Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and president of the Smart Choices board tried to rationalize the recommendation of questionable choices such as Fudgsicles, Lunchables, Mayonnaise, and Froot Loops as Smart Choices. According to the New York Times,
She said the program was also influenced by research into consumer behaviour. That research showed that, while shoppers wanted more information, they did not want to hear negative messages or feel their choices were being dictated to them.
“The checkmark means the food item is a ‘better for you’ product, as opposed to having an x on it saying ‘Don’t eat this,’ ” Dr. Kennedy said. “Consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn’t have the checkmark, by implication it’s not a ‘better for you’ product. They want to have a choice. They don’t want to be told ‘You must do this.’ “
“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”
Since when consumers are complaining about food warnings? Choosing Froot Loops over doughnuts is considered “healthy eating for kids”? So doughnuts can also become healthy if they are compared to deep-fried Mars bar? It’s hard to believe that a prominent nutrition expert would provide such an irrational, eye-popping report, but then, in the face of all the ongoing conflicts of interests between sales revenue and consumer’s health benefits, it might not appear so bizarre after all. Nevertheless, let’s all be very vigilant when it comes to appraising and selecting foods from the grocery. Apparently the food industry has skewed many of its decisions when setting nutritional criteria. Shortcomings in the food can now be quickly masked by highly regarded health food labels like the Smart Choices. A lot of cereals and breads made of refined grains can easily get the seal of approval by just adding a few minerals and vitamins. As food fraud turns rampant and dishonest food marketing gurus become more dextrous in their selling tactics, I think as consumers, we should also gear ourselves up for enough information to dodge and keep ourselves shielded from all the flying darts in the shops.