Our kids need help!






At first glance, you might think that these store shelves are already stocked for Halloween but you would be wrong. This is “So ready for school” Canadian style.

Really? Is this what kids need to see as they stock up on school supplies. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t eat treats but having displays aimed at youngsters in this way doesn’t sit right with me. (Nor does it for my colleague, fellow dietitian Francy Pillo-Blocka who sent me the photos.)

We seem to have two extremes when it comes to feeding youngsters these days: a food environment that promotes these sugar-laden choices and then apps such as the brand new one, Kurbo, by WW (formerly Weight Watchers) which vilifies all kinds of healthy options in addition to what seems like anything that could contain fat, sugar and who knows what else.

Being a kid is not easy these days.

While these displays on store shelves may seem as though they’re very seasonal, a recent study, from the University of Calgary shows otherwise.

Researchers assessed how child-targeted supermarket foods have transformed over time from 2009 to 2017 by looking at nutritional criteria and then compared this to marketing techniques on packages.

They found that child-targeted food products foods did not improve nutritionally overtime. In fact the author states that 88% of the products assessed would not be permitted to be marketed to children according to World Health Organization (WHO) criteria. (Back in 2010, WHO developed a set of recommendations on food marketing to children.)

These results are pretty sad, especially when you consider that legislation halting the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids was killed by the Senate.

During this time, though the use of nutrition claims on these packages increased significantly overtime as did the use of cartoon characters and appealing fonts to attract children’s attention. Character licensing – using characters from entertainment companies – remained consistent.

What’s a parent to do?

Banishing all these foods from your home won’t work either. But leaving it up to your kids to make the best choices themselves can backfire.

While there is a strong movement to allow kids to pick and choose and use their appetite regulation to limit these foods, there’s much more to consider.

When you look at the statistics that show just how much in the way of ultra-processed foods we’re eating, trusting appetites can be risky proposition. It’s one thing if the foundation of a child’s eating pattern is based on healthy eats-a balance of whole foods – then kids’ appetite regulation is definitely more trustworthy.

It’s a different story though when ultra-processed foods make up the majority of what’s on their plates. Research shows that these foods can promote consuming too many calories.

That doesn’t mean that everything needs to be cooked from scratch. But if we’re going to trust our appetites to know when we’re hungry and when we’re full, and therefore be able to eat treats in moderation, it’s key to fill our plates with real food.

One way to start is by using the #HalfYourPlate method where half the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables. Now these do not need to be fresh fruits and vegetables. They can be frozen or canned or even convenience products where they have been chopped, sliced or even spiralized for you.

Check out the website for tips and recipes.

But one thing is for sure, if you’re looking for help, avoid Kurbo. You’ve likely already read plenty about this initiative where youngsters from ages 8 to 17 can sign up to track their food consumption and get on the diet rollercoaster.  I’ve signed a petition asking WW to withdraw it. Consider signing it yourself.

Yes, it allows kids as young as 8 years of age to log on and choose weight loss as their goal. Yes – that’s a great business strategy for WW to capture a whole new set of members who spend their lives dieting. Worse, though, is the potential damage to self-esteem and the risk of developing eating disorders.

Here’s a link on the topic to check out.

But as I looked through the app, which uses a stoplight system to categorize foods, I had to wonder just what it is that kids can eat without guilt and also what kind of criteria did they use in determining the categories.

Just take a look at some of the red and amber light options.






Just how did they determine that peanuts, sunflower seeds and cashews are red light while almonds are amber?








Not to mention these foods are packed with nutrition for growing kids and adults. Yes, balance is key. But is this the way to promote the concept?

Not in my books.

Besides which, how many of these kids are planning their own menus? That’s where we get to the crux of the matter. It’s the food environment (family, school and community) which needs to change. I could write a book on that so I won’t dwell on it now.

Suffice it to say, though, include kids in the menu planning decisions but don’t put the onus on kids to fix a broken system where they’re surrounded by promotions for sugar, salt and fat-laden foods.

Yes, they need to learn their way around the supermarket and kitchen in order to prepare balanced meals (and that does include treats). But it’s time to stop telling them that they need boxes of treats to go back to school and then apps to shame them into admitting they’ve eaten them.


Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Rosie's Rants, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Our kids need help!”

  1. Jennifer Burnham
    September 3, 2019 at 1:46 pm #

    Bravo, Rosie… once again you have said it like it needs to be said. I was also interested in your comment about who decides one food is amber and one is green (or red!) So very subjective.
    I volunteer at a local library. Part of our holdings is a group of books written for adults with learning difficulties and/or literacy. They were originally all catalogued in levels (ex: F RL1, RL 2) etc. Now they just come catalogued as RL. When I asked why the change the answer – it was too subjective. Same with foods and choosing foods. And what I had earlier or yesterday/how it was cooked, where it was eaten and with what else, and so on. So – I am so glad you brought that issue up as well. And, I would never ever suggest anyone use Kurbo Marketing… money talks loud and clear, this is a perfect example and going to be harder to stamp out!

  2. September 3, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

    Thanks for your feedback, Jennifer! Yes, it’s amazing how people who make these subjective decisions have no idea on the potential impact of what they are doing. For kids, it can be lifelong! And yes, I also agree about Kurbo. Too many people will welcome this program and be unaware of the harm it can cause. Very sad.

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