I was under the impression that our nation’s concept of health has been improving? Health is a consistent hot topic in the news, sales of kale continue to increase, soda sales are down, and more and more restaurants are offering vegetarian or vegan options on their menus. So what is up with Kraft Singles becoming the first product allowed to bear the “Kids Eat Right” label?
If you haven’t heard of it, the “Kids Eat Right” initiative was designed to aid health-conscious parents in purchasing nutritious food for their children. It was launched by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the “Academy”), a trade group that represents over 75,000 registered dietitians and other professionals in the field. The label sounds like a good idea, but if their first foray into product selection is any indication of what’s to come, let’s hope it doesn’t catch on.
Kraft is a company well known for producing products full of added sodium, fat, colorings, and preservatives. Their flagship, plasticky Kraft Singles are a perfect example of this. In fact, Kraft Singles are so processed they are not even considered “cheese” by the FDA. According to their standards, a food labeled as “cheese” must contain at least 51% cheese. This is why Singles are labeled as a “pasteurized prepared cheese product”. The ironic thing is that Kraft didn’t even try to use the “Kids Eat Right” label on a healthier product first—like a granola bar. Instead, they went straight to their flagship, individually plastic-wrapped cheese-like slices.
When the news broke, it didn’t take long for people to voice their concern. Kraft Singles? Seriously? How could the Academy let this happen? In a country attempting to correct many poor eating habits and erroneous nutritional ideas, especially among children, giving a processed cheese the nutritional seal of approval was bound to cause controversy.
In response to the criticism, the Academy was quick to clarify that, “Kraft is putting the ‘Kids Eat Right’ logo saying Kraft is a proud supporter of Kids Eat Right, not vice versa. The Academy has never endorsed any product, brand or service, and we never will.” This is a confusing response. They are denying what clearly looks like their endorsement of a Kraft product. It seems obvious that the Academy is trying to save face in response to the public outcry.
Actually, this story is not unusual. The Academy has a history of ties to big food companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Monsanto. This is not the first time these questionable connections have caused concern. In fact, disenchanted Academy members—concerned about the impact of mega-corporation sponsorships—founded the appropriately named Dietitians for Professional Integrity. Upon hearing the Kraft Singles news, Andy Bellatti, the founder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, remarked, “You would think an organization [the Academy] that has come under fire for so many years for its relations with food companies might pick something other than a highly processed cheese product for its first endorsement”.
Bellatti has had his hands full recently. Besides the battle on the processed cheese front, Coca-Cola was recently involved in a comparable controversy. A new report found that the company has been paying fitness and nutrition experts to recommend its soda as a healthy snack. Although the recommended product was a mini can (7.5 oz), it doesn’t change the fact that 100% of the drink’s calories come from high fructose corn syrup. Commenting on the Coke situation, Bellatti said that companies court dietitians as a way to validate their corporate messages.
So what can we take away from this situation? First, we need to be wary of the marketing we see on food packages. It is not a surprise that food companies seek to present their foods as healthy choices, but we need to be aware of the Health Halos that are often touted. Second, we need to realize that big food companies have a lot of money and influence. Since they fund many scientific studies conducted on food and nutrition, it’s not unlikely that bias may sometimes find its way into these studies. Third, we need to use common sense. If you don’t think a food is healthy, it probably isn’t. In general, make an effort to stick with fresh, unprocessed, whole foods. Finally, no matter how many people tell you something, you need to think a little about the science or reasoning behind it.
In a strange way, we should be thankful for Kids Eat Right. They serve as an excellent reminder to not let marketing fool us into poor nutrition!
References: “A Cheese ‘Product’ Gains Kids’ Nutrition Seal.” Well. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/a-cheese-product-wins-kids-nutrition-seal/.  Ibid.  Bushak, Lecia. “Nutritionists Dub Kraft Singles Healthy For Kids, Confusing Everyone.” Medical Daily, March 14, 2015. http://www.medicaldaily.com/nutritionists-gave-kraft-singles-kids-eat-right-label-and-no-one-really-knows-why-325748.  “Kraft Singles Are Not Actually Cheese, But They’re Apparently A Health Food Now.” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/16/kraft-singles-kids-eat-right_n_6879658.html.  “Kraft Singles Is First Food Allowed to Display ‘Kids Eat Right’ Logo.” FoxNews.com, March 16, 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2015/03/16/kraft-singles-receives-first-kids-nutrition-seal-from-national-dietician-group/.  “Learn the Issues.” Dietitians for Professional Integrity, http://integritydietitians.org/resources/learn-the-issues.  Ibid.  “A Cheese ‘Product’ Gains Kids’ Nutrition Seal.” Well. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/a-cheese-product-wins-kids-nutrition-seal/.  “Coca-Cola Pays Health Experts to Suggest Soda as a Healthy Snack.” Accessed March 18, 2015. http://rt.com/usa/241317-coca-cola-health-experts-paid/.  “TheHeraldBusinessJournal.com – Coke a Good Snack? Health Experts Who Work with Coke Say so.” The Herald Business Journal. Accessed March 18, 2015. http://www.theheraldbusinessjournal.com/article/20150316/BIZ02/150319339.