Connie Schultz | Give the Kids a Healthy Start

Last year, Congress attempted to strike a blow for America’s children by ordering a slew of agencies and departments to recommend standards for food advertising that targets kids.

Miraculously, these agencies and departments came through — and boldly so. One of the preliminary proposals: Cereal companies should reduce the amount of sugar per serving to 8 grams, rather than the routine 11 or 12 grams found in the most popular brands. And food companies shouldn’t be allowed to advertise a product unless it also offers sizable amounts of good things, such as whole grains, fruits or vegetables.

Immediately, the food industry, which had vowed to self-regulate itself into a conscience, blasted the regulations as an unconscionable attempt to force it to keep its word. Only they didn’t say it quite like that.

“The proposal was extraordinarily restrictive and would virtually end all food advertising as it’s currently carried out to kids under 18 years of age,” Dan Jaffe told The New York Times. Jaffe is with the Association of National Advertisers, in case you couldn’t guess, but I’m betting you could.

Now children’s health advocates are worried the government will water down the final version of the regulations, until the only thing America’s kids will lose is a real chance for a healthy start.

Parents: Arm yourselves; the statistics are on your side.

Last year, Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a report ranking dozens of cereals for nutritional value and efforts to market to children.

Here are the top 10 advertised cereals with the poorest nutrition ratings:

1. Reese’s Puffs

2. Corn Pops

3. Lucky Charms

4. Cinnamon Toast Crunch (tie)

4. Cap’n Crunch

6. Trix (tie)

6. Froot Loops (tie)

6. Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles

9. Cocoa Puffs

10. Cookie Crisp

All but two of these cereals — Cap’n Crunch and Cookie Crisp — are also on the list of cereals most frequently marketed to children on TV, with Honey Nut Cheerios and Frosted Flakes rounding out that list.

More scary numbers from the report: Cereal companies spend more than $156 million marketing to children in a single year. The average preschooler sees 642 of these ads a year. And that’s just on television.

Which brings me to what is bound to be a prickly issue in this debate regarding children’s nutrition: Parents have to be parents. When it comes to monitoring a child’s eating habits, sometimes only “no” will do.

(SET ITAL) No, you can’t watch any more TV.

No, we are not buying that cereal.

No, you can’t watch any more TV. (END ITAL) (Some things you will always have to say more than once — maybe more than 1,000 times even.)

For parents who always are trying to find the “yes” in discipline:

(SET ITAL) Yes, I meant it when I said, “Turn off the TV.”

Yes, you may eat a healthy cereal, such as Mini-Wheats, Life, Kix or Cheerios (but no Honey Nut).

Yes, I understand you think I’m meaner than (END ITAL) (pick the parent). (SET ITAL) I embrace your version of parental imperfectionism. (END ITAL) (Erupt with wicked laughter here.)

Insist on parenting and your children may whine, scream and yell. But you will win — and so will they. Studies show that if you feed your children healthy foods, they’ll learn to like them.

Besides, aren’t you sick of the food industry’s thinking parents are a bunch of chumps? The Yale report — which you can read at http://www.CerealFacts.org — compared the nutritional value of cereals marketed to adults with those targeting children. On whole, cereals pitched to kids contain 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber and 60 percent more sodium. Yummy.

The report recommended that the food industry “adopt meaningful standards that stop ‘gaming the system.'”

Think labels such as “better for you” stuck on “but-still-bad-for-you” stuff, or “Smart Choices” for “Really Dumb” notions of nutrition. I’m thinking this also includes Kellogg’s pitch for its fiber frosted chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts: “One whole serving of whole grain and 20 percent daily value of fiber in one frosted, fudgetastic pocket of perfection.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if they at least (SET ITAL) sounded (END ITAL) as if they were trying?

The health of America’s children is deteriorating because of willful manipulation by an industry that sees profit in their suffering and because of poor decisions by grown-ups, who are supposed to protect them.

The time for incremental change has passed.

When our children need help, baby steps just won’t do.

Copyright 2010 Creators.com.