Kids products marketed for nutrition may be misleading, ARS survey

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

The majority of foods marketed for children that highlight their
healthy nutrient content were found to be high in saturated fat,
salt and sugar, according to a US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
nutritionist.

In an examination of kids' food and drink products found in six major grocery stores, more than half of the items featuring 'extra nutrition information' were revealed as exceeding USDA recommended guidelines for some of the more 'unhealthy' ingredients. Speaking at the annual Experimental Biology (EB) 2007 meeting at the Washington Convention Center, Washington DC, Sarah Colby of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) presented the findings of a survey of around 9,000 food products. Colby, a nutritionist with the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, surveyed the labels of 57,000 products. Of those, Colby and her team found 9,105 to be marketed toward children, based on qualifiers such as graphics, lettering and promotion designs. Nearly 80 percent of those foods marketed toward children - about 7,284 - carried some nutrition marketing information on the package. But 60 percent of the kid-oriented foods that were packaged with nutrition marketing - about 4,370 foods - were also high in saturated fat, sodium and/or added sugar, when compared to the levels recommended in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The findings come at a time when increasing numbers of products for children featuring extra nutrition marketing are appearing on shelves around the United States. According to information provided by trade body GMA/FPA, over the last five years, food companies have introduced about 10,000 new or reformulated products in order to tap into the growing market for 'healthier' goods. These have included products with more whole grains, reduced calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar. But the survey findings stress the need for overall balanced nutrition offerings, particularly in products that attract parents because they claim to be a 'good source of nutrient x, y or z', according to Colby. She was among ARS scientists giving more than 100 presentations at the EB meeting between April 28 and May 2. EB is sponsored by member societies of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, or FASEB. Other nutrition topics presented by ARS scientists at EB this year range from detecting health-enhancing bioactive food components to links between dietary intake and risk of fractures while aging.

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