The Feeding Doctor on Pinterest

sugary cereals, and marketing “health” to kids

Posted by on Dec 27, 2010 in Blog Posts | 28 comments

Well, Tony the Tiger has found his way back into our house. (Blame a poorly-timed grocery trip and having lost the will to day ‘no’ this time. As my friend says, being consistent and reliable over and over, means you get to say “yes” sometimes too-like ice-cream for breakfast on vacation, or DQ for an afternoon snack- I just don’t make a big deal about it. ) Anyway, breakfasts are our toughest meal around here. M doesn’t really like traditional breakfast foods like pancakes, eggs, French toast or the two whole wheat breads Dad and I eat. She most often would eat some dry cereal, perhaps some bread with cinnamon sugar or butter, sometimes her rye bread with ham, clementines or bananas or raisins… It’s a meal where we don’t all eat the same things, as there is no cooking involved and we can put foods out to chose from. (Note, she’s not into eggs now, but this is always subject to change, so I still will often scramble a few eggs and put the plate on the middle of the table. I also served French toast this weekend and she enjoyed it after refusing the last several months. Always keep serving the foods you want to eat as a family.) I just trust that she will grow up and enjoy a wider variety of foods, as Dad and I do. On another side note, she is eating her Frosted Flakes with milk and drinking more milk in general, which I like, though without praise or comment.

So, more than the fact that I don’t love cereal with 11 grams of sugar per serving, I really don’t like what’s on the Tony box. I have to say it still makes me a little wacky when all she eats is frosted flakes, no milk, no nothing. So the other day, I mentioned that only eating cereal doesn’t give you very long-lasting energy. She quickly pointed to the back of the box with kids playing soccer and said, “No, Mom, see? This cereal gives you really good energy!”

Then I read this on the side of the box. On your Mark! Eat your breakfast. It can help you start your day! (no problem so far I suppose!) Become a star in and out of school! Get Set! Make a list of healthy activities and foods you should include in your day. (Ugh, here we go, “healthy,” “should”, and I can pretty much gaurantee the concensus of any nutritionist is that a cereal with 11 grams of sugar per serving is not “healthy.” When companies or teachers ask kids to do the meal planning, they are expecting the child to do the adult’s job with feeding, that is deciding what is being served.) If you can stick to it, you’ll have fun and stay fit! Go!!! How many sit-ups or push-ups can you do during commercials of your favorite TV shows? See how many times you can ride a bicycle around the block without stopping.”

Anyway, lot’s of marketing to kids, lots of developmentally inappropriate messages for kids, and ones that are not proven to work, and might be counterproductive. How many of you pop up to do sit-ups during commercials? It’s a particularly annoying piece of advice in my mind. I’ve seen it before. “Have kids do jumping jacks or run around in circles during commercial to prevent childhood obesity.” Sounds fun. How would you have reacted if your Mom tried to get you up during Happy Days to do jumping jacks… Just not developmentally appropriate, and sets parents up for MORE power struggles, oh, and the notion that it would “prevent obesity” is also false. It’s way more complex than that.

How many food products for kids have some kind of “health” or “obesity” messages on them? Check it out and let me know! (The gift bag from a pizza and cake bouncy party had a doozy which I will save for another post-calorie counting and all!)

On another tangent, the family went to Wood Lake Nature center yesterday. If you’re local, check it out. For a fee, the family can join for a year and rent Snow-shoes and Cross country skis free! If you go even twice, it’s a great deal. M enjoyed her first cross-country skiing, with only a few tears on the hilly part 🙂 She went a whole mile! I expressed surprise at how cheap the pass was for all the gear rental, and the lady said, “Well, we’re here to help people be able to enjoy being outside!” Now that is a message I can get behind!

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Elizabeth

    Found this article that I thought you’d be interested in – people are denied the food they want at the other end of life in the name of “health,” too: Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate . It really saddens me that a 96-year-old woman wouldn’t be able to eat chocolate if she wants it (at other facilities), because it’s “unhealthy.”

    • katja

      Thanks for the link. Got me thinking about doing a post. My MIL already made us swear to smuggle in a salt shaker if she is in a home. I remember a terminal patient who was in dietary restrictions. It was complex (end of life issues etc) no one told him that the next time he got a breathing tube he would get a trach and a feeding tube… I spent lots of time with him and his biggest wish was to eat bacon and have milkshakes again. His last week of life he was comfort measure only and on-call bacon and milkshakes. He was thrilled. Nurses said he joked and came out of his shell that week. Food is so important. if it wasn’t atronauts would have protein bars for months on end, but they take great pains and effort to make varied and good-tasting food… I like the approach at this care facility. Please, let the woman bathe in chocolate if it makes her happy.

    • KellyK

      Unhealthy? She’s 96, with a terminal illness that has no treatment. I’m not seeing how other homes feel that restricting her food is going to help. I’m pretty sure chocolate’s not what’s going to do her in, and she deserves whatever comforts she can have.

      • katja

        I know. crazy, right? I don’t see a big difference with the “I lost half my weight folks” who work out 3 hours a day, eat a single egg-white with some spinach for breakfast, 2 ounces of tuna with lemon juice and a quarter of a whole wheat pita for lunch etc… Quality of life is so important, and all this food hysteria and weight worry sacrifices QOL.

  2. Samantha C

    haha oh god, my mom DID in fact instruct me to do sit-ups during TV time well into my teens. Or to go walk on the treadmill while I was watching TV whether or not I had done anything else active that day. It was supposed to be “easy” ways to get exercise in. Really it just made me incredibly resentful that I wasn’t allowed to rest without feeling guilty that I should be exercising instead. What kind of a lump am I if I’m content to sit and watch TV instead of constantly walking or sit-up-ing or weight-lifting – god, it’s like I’m just too lazy to lose weight.

    Incidentally, I’ve never been a big Breakfast Food person either and it’s nice to see the wide array of food you offer to M instead. In my case, the problem was solved once I got to college and settled into my natural sleep cycle. I don’t wake up till 11am and by the time I’m hungry, it’s lunchtime 😉

    • katja

      I think being able to relax and do nothing is a skill as well. Sad what the adults in our lives sometimes foisted upon us, even if it was well-intentioned, we hope… It’s what I really hate about all this “health” and “obesity prevention” stuff, it’s as if it is a choice, and anyone who is larger than “average” is lazy. I read some student essays on our local wellness policy and it was shocking. The kids are being brainwashed that if you just didn’t “stuff your face” or eat “bad foods” or “exercised” you could prevent diabetes, overweight, obesity, etc etc etc. And if you are big, it’s your own darn fault. Really dangerous stuff.
      What time do you go to bed? It is amazing to me how our bodies are so different from sleep to food and activity needs…

      • Samantha C

        when I can settle in on my own and not have to get up for classes (or if I’m lucky and have afternoon classes) I generally sleep around 2:30 – 11am. This last semester I had a class at 9:30 so I was waking up at 8:45, and I still couldn’t get to sleep before 1 on a regular basis, and ended up having to learn how to nap.

        It’s odd, but I think some of the moral judgements people put on food are made on sleep as well (new blog post idea?). When I mentioned how tired I was waking up so early over the semester, my mom told me I’d need to either learn to like coffee or “get a vampire job” when I graduated. Part of the reason I don’t mind the thought of working retail is the potential for closing shifts that fit my sleep schedule, but the way she says it is like it’s clearly inferior to a 9-5 office job. If you sleep late into the morning, you must be lazy, even if you’re not sleeping any longer than most people (and I DO sleep longer, I tend to need about 9 hours to feel good)

        • KellyK

          You’re right. We think getting up early means you’re virtuous, when really it probably just means you’re a morning person, or that you can fake it well enough.

          And nine hours is totally reasonable. That’s about what I need to feel rested too.

          • katja

            People’s rhythms are so different. This tends to cause major problems on our family vacations. The early risers in the family literally can’t stand when others want to take their time getting the day started, and they clearly see it as laziness. Ugh. I can go either way, so I often get caught in the middle on this one. Wish we could all accept biological diversity in its many forms more.

  3. Michellers

    Oh, and by the way, food is not medicine. Check out the excellent post by the Fat Nutritionist on that topic at (Sorry, don’t know how to link)

    • katja

      love michele over at FN. I have a big beef with the whole “food as medicine” movement, particularly when it is fed to our kids that way…

  4. Michellers

    Cereal is just not my thing–I might eat it twice a year. But my husband loves cereal and would eat it for every meal (and sometimes does, plus more for dessert). Our daughter is somewhere in between, but mostly indifferent.

    Recently my husband when grocery shopping and returned with Corn Pops. Really, Corn Pops?! The front of the box says “Good Source of Fiber” but then says “Same Great Taste!” as if something can’t have fiber AND taste good at the same time. The side panel informs me that “Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. That’s because fiber helps keep the digestive system healthy so it can absorb nutrients.” Good news. The nutrition facts tell me that 1 serving has 11% of recommended dietary fiber intake. I can’t wait to eat 10 cups of Corn Pops so I can get 100% of my fiber needs for the day! The roof of my mouth hurts just thinking about it.

    In contrast, M’s favorite Trader Joe’s cereal (Oat n Wheat Bran Swirls) says absolutely nothing about fiber on the front of the box but has 32% of rec. dietary fiber for a comparable amount of cereal. Ironically, I just noticed that it also has twice the amount of sugar as the Corn Pops. Isn’t the world a weird place?

    Me, I’m just going to have a bagel or some eggs and not think for another second about how much fiber I’m consuming.

    • katja

      it is bizarre. Fruit loops touts fiber on the package too, tortilla chips are “whole grain” etc. I’m glad you’re not going to waste time on the fiber worries. Worrying usually doesn’t help 🙂

  5. Living400lbs

    Emgee – good point 😉

    • katja

      it is a great point. Putting food choices and singling kids out for onerous exercise, versus being supported by a family to find ways to have fun and be active together won’t work. My husband and I are meso and endo morphs and so we have to make an effort to provide opportunities for activity. I’d rather sit by the fire and read, but we do try to get out and give her the opportunity to have fun and move around. We all love it once we get motivated!

  6. Emgee

    As an only child I was a “housecat”, preferring to read rather than go outside (bad allergies didn’t help). My mom’s answer to this was telling me to go out and run around the house. How come many parents who are worried about fat kids don’t say, “LET’S go for a walk”??

  7. Living400lbs

    We picked up Life cereal at a vacation condo a few months ago. Why? We were purchasing food for the week only, and cereal is simple and something that’s easy to bring home if we didn’t eat it all that week.

    Prior to that I hadn’t had cold cereal in years. I determined that yes, I do still get hungry much faster after cereal than after my other breakfasts (whole wheat toast or bagel with peanut butter, scrambled eggs with cheese, or muffin and fruit).

    • katja

      I know, if all I eat is cereal, I’m starving 45 minutes later! M doesn’t seem to eat much at breakfast, but I still offer fat, protein and carb… remember, doesn’t mean they’ll eat it-alas!

      • KellyK

        I’m the same way about eating cereal and being hungry immediately afterwards. What’s funny is that I consciously thought about it today and had a good-size bowl of cereal and was thinking “Remember to leave yourself enough time to have seconds if you still feel hungry. You don’t want to be starving by 9 AM.” I didn’t feel like I needed a second bowl, but I was still hungry by nine. I guess cereal by itself just isn’t necessarily a full meal.

        • katja

          🙂 It rarely keeps me full! I wonder how many Americans just eat a bowl of cereal. (And imagine if you actually ate a “serving!” what is it, half a cup? a cup? I know I probably eat 3-4 times what the “serving suggestion” is, and I’m still hungry an hour later, anyway!

  8. Lisa

    This is one of those areas where I am SO grateful that we do not have cable or broadcast television in our home, and our daughter goes to a daycare that does not use television or videos. My daughter has been exposed to very little by way of advertising, and we shop at Whole Foods so she has no idea who Tony the Tiger is. I know this will change as she gets older, but it’s nice right now that she doesn’t connect food with entertainment and characters in her head.

    She did see a box of cereal at Whole Foods with Elmo on it one time (some organic version of a typical kid’s cereal no doubt) and asked if we could get it but I just explained to her that the manufacturer put Elmo on the box to get us to buy it, but it wasn’t the kind of cereal we liked to eat. She just shrugged and said “ok” and that was the end of that. If she had gotten obsessed with it, I likely would have bought the cereal for her, though because I don’t want her feeling deprived. But since she’s let it go, I’ve let it go.

    She’s 5, and we talk to her about advertising, and money, etc… regularly in the hopes of innoculating her (fingers crossed) against some of the negative effects advertising can have.

    On a somewhat related note: I recently found out that you can purchase Happy Meal toys without having to buy a happy meal at McD’s. They cost $.99 This has been helpful to us because my daughter was beginning to ask for a happy meal at least weekly which is more often than I’d like to buy there. Not that a wkly happy meal would’ve been the end of the world, but I personally don’t want to eat there that often. Anyhow – I let her know that we could just buy the toy when a new one came out *even if she didn’t actually want the Happy Meal* and she now asks for the actual meal less often. So I am please we managed to circumvent that bit of manipulation from the McDonald’s marketing team.

    • katja

      I think she first had it in a hotel from the little box. Of course it’s delicious with so much sugar! We also talk about ads etc, but I don’t think they really get it yet. That “magical thinking” developmental phase really gets exploited by the ad execs! I had heard about just buying the toy. I would certainly offer that. I never thought I’d actually be happy she ate her Happy Meal, but on our recent road trip we had McDonalds, I again asked if she really wanted it or if she just wanted the toy, and she ate her burger and most of the fries. (extra pickles and onions!)

    • Michellers

      My husband got into the “habit” (aka rut) of going to McD’s with our daughter every week for dinner when I was in class. She doesn’t actually like the food (neither does my husband) but loves the toys. I finally suggested to him that he buy the toy and eat somewhere else. Win-win…except for the snowdrifts of cheap plastic toys around the house!

  9. jaed

    For some reason, a comment on Michelle’s Fat Nutritionist blog comes to mind – I think that’s where I saw this – in which a mother reported her young daughter coming to her with a box of cereal, pointing to the back, and solemnly telling her, “I don’t think I should be eating this. It’s not healthy – it’s got calories.”

    Which is to say, I don’t think the “childhood obeeeesity” messages on kid-oriented food would be anywhere near as harmful if not that the children are already conditioned to respond to these messages by pervasive teachings about “health” and fearing food. (I think the messages on the box actually are aimed at anxious parents, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hit the kids too.)

    • katja

      totally agree. It makes me crazy. Working on an editorial and will blog about this issue, this “nutrition” inculcation and misinformation.You can bet I will be asking at her school next year what kind of nutrition classes/handouts/info they will be teaching. I’m more worried about how the schools handle that issue than the whole sex-ed thing…

  10. Kate

    Ha! I had to run in place while the rest of the family sat and watched tv after dinner. That wasn’t unpleasant or anything.

    I noticed a box of Cookie Crisp cereal in the store the other day that was advertising how much fiber the cereal has. I thought of you and wondered what you’d say about that.

    From the old habits die hard category, my mom wrapped up candy for my equally fat husband, but none for me, which is exactly what she did when I was a child, my brother got gobs of candy and I got none.

    • katja

      ee-gads! When I ws 28, and my then boyfriend (now husband was 31) we visited them and wanted to buy ice-cream at the store. She practically shouted, “Das erlauben wir nicht!” which is, “we won’t allow that…” Sorry it’s still happening. It can still be painful, even with a lot of perspective and time, and healing.

  11. Becky Henry

    Love it Katja! Thanks for being real and helping parents everywhere navigate this food marketing craziness that goes on.

    Becky Henry
    Hope Network


  1. cereal ne-go-tia-tor! « Family Feeding Dynamics Family Feeding Dynamics - [...] or whole? Milk and weight mythbusting and recommendations (37)sugary cereals, and marketing "health" to kids (28)worldwide readers-what was for…