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Kids' foods are high on fun but low on nutrition, says U of C


Michelle Magnan

Calgary Herald

July 15, 2008

Chocolate bars, chips and pop aren't the only nutritional dangers lurking in grocery store aisles.

Nine out of 10 grocery store food products marketed directly to children provide poor nutrition because they're too high in sugar, fat or sodium, according to a new University of Calgary study.

Researchers examined 367 so-called fun foods -- products targeting children with cartoons, puzzles or games, or tie-ins with children's television shows, among other marketing strategies.

They did not include junk foods such as pop, cakes or chips in the study.

"Because there's so much focus on the issue of pop and junk food, we're tending to overlook other critical spaces where food is marketed to kids," said Charlene Elliott, the lead researcher and an assistant professor in the U of C's faculty of communication and culture.

The fruit snacks aisle is one such space.

"I don't think parents are unreasonable to presume fruit snacks are a healthy choice," she said, "but many of them are just stacked with sugar."

To assess the nutritional value of these foods, Elliott and her team used criteria developed by the U.S.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The criteria states healthy foods should contain no more than 35 per cent of added sugar by weight and no more than 35 per cent of total calories from fat. Snacks should have no more than 230 milligrams of salt, while meals should have no more than 770 mg of salt.

Almost 70 per cent of the foods studied were high in sugar, about 23 per cent were high in fat, and about 17 per cent were high in sodium.

Despite these nutritional pitfalls, researchers found 62 per cent of the foods in the study boasted health claims on the product packaging.

Elliott pointed to Chocolate Lucky Charms, which contain 14 grams of sugar per serving and claimed to be a good source of iron and whole grains.

"It's a very strange universe where you can have a children's cereal that's actually marketed as breakfast candy yet carries multiple nutritional claims on the front of the box," she said.

"It's misleading."

The study was published in the July issue of Obesity Reviews.





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