Anyone who followed the fracas over the food industry’s now abandoned “Smart Choices”
label — the “healthy food” label that somehow allowed products like
Froot Loops to qualify — should have realized that Big Food can’t
resist the temptation to stretch the truth when it comes to
front-of-package labeling. But a new study released today
by the California-based Prevention Institute should represent the final
nail in the coffin of the corpse that is food industry self-regulation.
The “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food” [PDF]
study examined over 50 products that food companies advertise as their
healthiest for children — “Smart Choices” was but one front-of-package
label of many others still in use. In the spirit of fairness, the study
authors didn’t go looking for crap food: they selected products from an
industry-created list that was part of its own “Children’s Food and
Beverage Advertising Initiative,” which selects products the industry
has itself determined to meet good nutritional standards. From that
list, the study authors then selected products with some type of
“healthier for you” front-of-package labels and analyzed them using
nutritional standards based on the National Academy of Science’s 2005
“Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
The researchers concluded that in fact, 84 percent of those products did not meet these basic nutritional standards.
- More than half (57 percent) of the study products qualified as high
sugar, and an astonishing 95 percent of products contained added sugar.
- More than half (53 percent) were low in fiber.
- More than half (53 percent) of products did not contain
any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, 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.
Keep in mind, these are not simply foods marketed to children. These are foods advertised as healthy for kids!