UConn Study Questions Marketing, Ingredients in Food Advertised to Young Children

It would be disingenuous to describe the results as surprising, but a new study has found that marketing for baby and toddler food and drinks often contradicts the advice of health professionals. According to the study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, companies tend to use marketing messages that may lead parents to believe that these commercial products are healthier alternatives to breastmilk or homemade food.baby-facts

The new Baby Food FACTS report found that companies spent $77 million in 2015 to advertise infant formula, baby food, and toddler food and beverages to parents, primarily through TV, magazines, and the internet. By comparison, companies spent $98 million to advertise fruits and vegetables in 2015 – products intended for the entire U.S. population.

“Our analysis shows that marketing for baby and toddler food, infant formula, and toddler milk and nutritional supplements often contradicts expert guidance and in some cases encourages parents to feed their young children products that may not promote healthy eating habits,” said Jennifer Harris, UConn Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives and the report's lead author.

The report analyzed companies spending $100,000 or more in total advertising in 2015 and documented changes in advertising over the past five years. Eight brands from three companies (Nestle, Abbott and Mead Nohnson) were responsible for 99 percent of advertising spending. Four additional baby and toddler food brands spent $100,000 or more in advertising in magazines and online, including Plum Organics (Campbell Soup Company), Beech-Nut (Hero A.G.), and Happy Baby and Happy Tot (Nurture Inc.).rudd-logo-300x77

Among the findings:

  • Infant formula brands had the most internet advertising and were most active in social media and on mom blogs.
  • Nearly 60 percent of advertising dollars promoted products that are not recommended for young children, including sugar-sweetened toddler drinks and nutritionally poor snack food.
  • Beech-Nut and Gerber marketed their baby food products in a way that supported most expert recommendations on best practices for feeding infants.
  • Toddler milk products including Enfagrow, Gerber Good Start Grow, Nido 1+, Similac Go & Grow, and Happy Tot Grow & Shine, contained added sweeteners, including sugar, glucose syrup solids, honey, and corn syrup solids.
  • Pediasure Grow & Gain, a nutritional supplement aimed at toddlers, had 240 calories per serving and as much sugar as an 8-ounce sports drink.
  • In contrast to nutritious baby and toddler fruit, vegetable, and meal products, just four of 80 baby and toddler snack foods, such as cookies, cereal bars, puffs, and fruit snacks, were nutritious choices for young children.
  • Fifty percent of baby and 83 percent of toddler snacks contained added sugars.

kids-eatingThe findings included in this report “provide policymakers, health professionals, public health advocates, industry representatives, and parents an opportunity to address misinformation conveyed through marketing of baby and toddler food and drinks.”

The study also found that traditional advertising spending (primarily on TV and magazines) by infant formula brands declined substantially—from more than $30 million in 2011 to less than $10 million in 2015.

Among the recommendations, the Rudd Center researchers indicated that toddlers’ diets should help them develop gross and fine motor skills and learn to enjoy the taste, flavors, and textures of real fruits and vegetables. By age two, toddlers should be eating the same food as the rest of the family. For all children, they stated, a healthy diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and limited consumption of saturated fat and sodium. Children under two should not consume any food with added sugars.

The report called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue final guidance on claims on infant formula packaging, including claims that compare infant formula to breastmilk, and also regulate claims on toddler milk packaging. The Federal Trade Commission should similarly regulate claims made in advertising, the report advised. The food industry was also urged to expand the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) self-regulatory program for improving food advertising to children to incorporate marketing of baby and toddler food and drinks.

The study was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and presented Nov. 1 at the American Public Health Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo in Denver.  The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut is a multi-disciplinary research center dedicated to promoting solutions to childhood obesity, poor diet, and weight bias through research and policy. For more information, visit www.UConnRuddCenter.org.

Free Summer Meals Program for Children Aims to Provide Nutrition, Sustain Academic Progress

Turns out, there is a free lunch.  In fact, Connecticut’s summer meal program for children 18 and under is providing hundreds of lunches – and breakfasts.  As Governor Malloy points out in a radio commercial now being broadcast around the state, 3 in 4 Connecticut children who could receive free meals aren’t doing so.

Officials say that the absence of good nutrition over the summer – when children are out of school and school lunch programs are unavailable - may contribute to children slipping somewhat in their educational progress.  “Summer learning loss,” they say, may be caused in part by “summer nutrition loss.”  The free Summer Meals program aims to turn that around.

The statistics are startling.  There are 100,000 children in Connecticut who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to Lieut. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who helped to kickoff the statewide initiative, and joins the Governor in the radio announcement.   That is why more than 400 locations around the state,  including churches, parks, schools and even some pools, are serving free meals to children throughout the summer afree lunchs part of the summer meals program and the state’s ongoing End Hunger Connecticut initiative.

A new interactive website, www.ctsummerfoods.org, was launched at the beginning of the summer that lists all the locations serving the meals.  The site allows people to simply type in a town or zip code to see a list of locations in that area that offer the meals.

Children and teens, under 18, do not have to be receiving free or reduced price school meals during the school year to eat a free, nutritious, summer meal and/or snack at participating locations.  Connecticut ranks 5th in country, as of 2012, for such programs, with  about 25% of children who are eligible are receiving the breakfasts.  “We need to do better,” said Stefan Pryor, Commissioner of the State Department of Education, when the program began just after the school year ended.

The program website notes that “Only 25.8 of every 100 low-income students that participate in school lunch also participate in summer nutrition. If participation reached 40 percent, an additional 19,558 students would be reached and that would bring an additional $1.35 million federal dollars into the state.”

By heightening visibility of this program, the Connecticut No Kid Hungry campaign and its partners aim to increase participation in the state’s 2013 summer meals program by 9 percent. Flyers and other program material is available on-line to help local organizers get the word out in their communities.

In launching the program, “Blitz Days” were held in Hartford, Groton, Naugatuck, Norwalk and Waterbury to bring attention to the initiative, which is mostly funded by the federal government.  CT News Junkie has reported that program organizers don’t ask too many questions of those coming to receive meals. Income guidelines are not required because the idea is not to discourage anyone from receiving a meal, state officials said.

Last year the state of Connecticut received 20120717-ShareOurStrength_CT-0062-slider$1.55 million to administer the program. The bulk of that or $1.3 million was used to purchase food. Summer meals are paid for by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Connecticut State Department of Education works with the USDA to reimburse sponsors for the summer meals they provide to children and teens, under 18, at participating summer meals locations.

For details on dates and times that meals and/or snacks are being served at particular locations, individuals can use the Location Finder, text “CTmeals” to 877877, or call, toll-free, 2-1-1.  It is anticipated that the program will continue until the start of the school year in late August.