Blog Post for: Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA
10/22/2008 | Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA
Just When I Thought We Were Seeing Progress in Getting Licensed Characters Off of Junk Food…
Last week, I found myself at Target, in front of a free-standing floor display full of boxes of Kellogg's fruit-flavored snacks with a licensed character to appeal to every child: Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob Squarepants, Disney Princess, Nemo, Go Diego Go, Backyardigans and Little Einsteins. The display was strategically placed at the end of the check-out line, so that no child could miss it, and parents would be forced to either tell their preschoolers "no" and risk a melt-down in the store, or just give in and buy a box.
This scenario is probably familiar to most parents, but it was disappointing to me for several reasons. All 3 companies involved (Kellogg's, Disney and Viacom - who owns the Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. characters) have pledged to reduce the use of third-party licensed characters on packaging for junk food. And fruit-flavored snacks are some of the worst products marketed directly to young children. The ingredients are primarily sugar and artificial flavors and colors, with only slightly fewer calories and less sugar than jelly beans - certainly not something that should be promoted as a “healthy” snack.
Given that Disney's policy is already in effect, and Kellogg's pledge is scheduled to become effective by the end of this year, I can only conclude that these fruit-flavored snacks would be allowed according to Disney and Kellogg’s criteria for "healthy" products marketed to children. (The effective date for the Viacom policy has not been announced). I bought a box to find out. It turns out that the top three ingredients are corn syrup, sugar and apple puree, for a total of 13 grams of sugar. All three companies place a maximum limit of 12 grams of added sugar on foods marketed to children, so that extra 1 gram is probably from the apple puree (a nutritional technicality).
Give me a break! These companies have all pledged to reduce their marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and this is the result: A product comprised of 65% sugar marketed directly to preschoolers and taking advantage of their attachment to beloved characters. Kellogg's, Disney and Viacom are going to have to do better than that if they want anyone to believe that self-regulation like this by the food industry and media companies is going to have a positive impact on childhood obesity.