Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food
For more than a decade marketers of prepared foods have used “front of package” labeling to promote the supposed health benefits of their products to consumers. Today supermarket shelves are lined with items labeled “low in calories” or “better for you” aimed at children and their parents. As concerns have grown about childhood obesity, however, the veracity of these claims has come into question.
A 2011 report by the Prevention Institute, “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food,” looked at the nutritional qualities of 58 children’s products with front-of-package labeling. The items chosen were from a list compiled by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an industry group with the stated goal of “encouraging healthier dietary choices.” Items on the list must meet certain self-developed nutrition criteria and in turn manufacturers agree to limit their children-focused advertising to products on the list.
The report compared the actual nutritional content of these items with criteria derived from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the National Academies of Science. The findings included:
- More than half (57%) of the products qualified as high in sugar; 95% contained added sugar, including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, glucose, brown sugar and fruit juice concentrate.
- Over half (53%) did not contain fruits or vegetables. Of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just two: tomatoes and corn.
- Almost one quarter (24%) of prepared foods were high in saturated fats; more than one third (36%) of prepared foods and meals were high in sodium.
- Many of the products used artificial colors, including 13% of the beverages, 40% of the cereals and 50% of the snacks.
- Overall, 84% of study products did not meet one or more nutrient criteria.
One of the authors summed up the study by saying that “more often than not, companies are telling parents food is healthy when it’s not.” The study concludes by recommending that the FDA develop uniform front-of-the-box labeling and require its use.
Tags: children, consumer affairs, nutrition, obesity
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled "Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children's Food."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Food Makers Devise Own Label Plan."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.