Food Crime Friday: Nesquik “Girl Scout Cookie” Flavored Drinks

The Girl Scouts of America has recently partnered with Nestle to create two drinks with beloved Girl Scout cookie flavors: Thin Mint and Caramel Coconut.

girlscoutnesquik-promoWhile the packaging boasts about 8g of protein and “a good source” of calcium, these drinks are far from a nutritious beverage – especially for young children. And here’s why:

Each 14 oz. bottle appears to be single-portioned, but the Nutrition Facts label claims it is actually 2 servings.  This makes the rest of the nutrition information look more favorable, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would drink less than the entire bottle in one sitting.  Since each serving contains 24 grams of sugar, the whole bottle contains twice that – a whopping 48 grams.

Milk does contain some naturally occurring sugar (about 22 g per 14 ounces of low-fat milk).  Taking this into account, these drinks still contain no less than 26 g of added sugar per bottle – that’s more than SIX teaspoons! The American Heart Association recommends that children aged 4 to 8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar in an entire day.  Preteens and teenagers are recommended to have no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons.  Even adult women and men and are not recommended to have more than 6 or 9 teaspoons, respectively.

Nesquik Nutrition

The real problem here isn’t that a company like Nestle decided to create a product like this.  The problem is that it is tied to the Girl Scouts of America – an organization that prides itself on teaching young girls how to become strong leaders to “make the world a better place.”  Sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to more than 180,000 obesity-related deaths worldwide each year.   Licensing the Girl Scouts logo to help Nestle market a hyper-sweetened beverage to children (including their own members) certainly doesn’t set a good example about making beneficial contributions to society.

Nestle has tried to claim that this product is only being marketed towards adults.  Sorry Nestle, but you lose that argument immediately when there is a cartoon bunny on the bottle.

Looking over the Girls Scouts website, it is apparent that the organization does attempt to address healthy eating in their programming.  In fact, the organization states:

Girl Scouts of the USA recognizes that girls making healthy choices and promoting healthy living are necessary to the foundation they need to become strong leaders.

Marketing this product with the Girl Scouts logo is in direct contradiction to this concept, and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so.  You can read more from parents and advocates outraged by this issue, and even sign a petition asking Girl Scouts to stop marketing the drinks to kids.

Oh, SNAP! AMA says food stamps should not buy sugary drinks

Last week, the American Medical Association came out against the eligibility for sugary drinks to be purchased under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.  Their new policy recommends that the federal government add sugary drinks to the list of current ineligible products such as tobacco, alcoholic beverages and prepared hot foods due to the known association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity.  AMA policy does not dictate any actual regulations, but their policies do represent the opinion of the largest group of physicians in the United States.

The controversy surrounding the inclusion of sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, in SNAP benefits is not new.  In 2008, Congress debated restricting the purchase of sugared drinks with food stamps as part of the 2008 farm bill, ultimately deciding to reject the concept.  Then in 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg fought (and subsequently lost) to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to purchase soda or other sugared drinks.

Those in opposition of such a restriction have several arguments:

1)      If sugary drinks become ineligible, what’s next? Cookies? Candy? Who determine what is healthful vs. not healthful?

While some food products may have a gray area in terms of health, the link between sugary drinks and poor health outcomes is clear.

2)      Any limitations on SNAP benefits are a direct result of the government trying to tell people what to eat and drink

A government nutrition program should provide foods that are actually nourishing, not empty calories that have been proven to be detrimental to health.  Removing products that are not food (similar to tobacco and alcohol) from eligibility does not stop beneficiaries from continuing to purchase the products, just not with taxpayer dollars.

3)      Removing sugary drinks from eligibility creates a stigma for SNAP beneficiaries

School breakfast and lunch programs, which are also administered by USDA, comply with nutrition standards that exclude sugary drinks, as they should. So does the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which is limited to foods that deliver health benefits to pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children.  The only group that would really be put to shame with this type of regulation is the soft drink industry which reportedly receives $4 billion in taxpayer money each year from food stamps spent on soda.

4)      We should instead focus on incentives to encourage healthier food purchases

A Yale study from 2012 concluded that sugar-sweetened beverages account for the majority (58 percent) of beverages purchased under SNAP.  Making these products ineligible is the perfect incentive for families to spend more dollars on foods and beverages that provide real nourishment.  It also sends a clear message that sugary drinks are not healthful for regular consumption.

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We should not just be helping low-income people from going hungry but we should be making real efforts to keep them healthier.   SNAP has already made strides in increasing access to healthier foods through nutrition education programs and the inclusion of farmers markets as an outlet for using benefits.   Removing sugar-sweetened beverages from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is just one more step in encouraging healthier beverage choices.

5 Misleading Messages in Coke’s Latest Anti-Obesity Ad

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Recently, the Coca-Cola company unleashed a frenzy of media activity surrounding the company’s global plan to tackle obesity.  Their attempts have been dismal, including several television ads that divert attention from the role of sugary drinks on the obesity epidemic, instead focusing on consumers’ responsibility to engage in more physical activity.

Their latest ad (below) is full of deceptive claims about calories and the physical activity required to burn them off.

Here are 5 of the misleading messages that immediately caught my attention:

1. The beginning of the commercial explains that you will need to spend 5 minutes doing each of the activities in the ad to burn the calorie amounts displayed on the screen.  If you happen to miss this message (which would be easy to do), one might assume that you would burn 7 calories giving a quick hug, or 12 calories zipping up a dress.  You won’t.

2. The commercial  implies that the activities you do everyday, like getting dressed or shouting at someone,  will quickly add up and burn off  any of the measly calories you gain from drinking the refined sugar in Coke, ultimately suggesting that burning calories is easy.   It isn’t.

3. The ad tries to explain (which it doesn’t do very well) that if you spend 5 minutes doing each of the 10 activities in the commercial, you will promptly burn up the 160 calories in a 13.5 oz. bottle of Coke.  When was the last time you saw a 13.5 oz. bottle?  If you drink the more common 20 oz. bottle of Coke, it would require performing each activity for 7.5 minutes to burn the 240 calories you consumed.  Spending 7.5 minutes hugging, shouting or getting dressed might be a challenge.

4. Towards the end of the commercial, the ad suggests that enjoying life requires Coke.  I get it. This is advertising, and Coke has long been known for advertising which equates drinking Coke with happiness.  But, the company claims they are making attempts to tackle obesity.  If being healthy is part of how you enjoy life, Coke will not help you.

5. The commercial conveniently ignores the fact that if you just don’t drink Coke, you won’t need 10 activities to burn off the calories.

Thanks for nothing, Coke. Try again.

Public Health Campaigns Tackling Childhood Obesity: The Bad vs. The Good

Last year, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta released a highly controversial anti-obesity ad campaign aimed at parents of overweight and obese children.  While the ads were meant to draw attention to the childhood obesity epidemic, their effectiveness was called into question by many parents and health experts, myself included.  The intentions of CHOA may have been good, but the campaign seemed much more likely to increase stigmatization against overweight children and make them feel ashamed of their bodies, rather than encourage healthy habits.

Here is an example of one of their ads, in case you missed it.

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In response to this campaign, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research and weight stigma at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale stated , “Messages that focus on promoting specific health behaviors are likely to be more effective” than messages focused on weight.

Which is exactly what Contra Costa County is doing with their newly released ad campaign:

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For several reasons, I love this campaign.

First, as mentioned above, it focuses on a single health behavior, reducing children’s consumption of sugary drinks.

Second, it is clearly targeting juice ‘drinks’, as opposed to soda (which most parents know isn’t healthy).  Juice products, even those with added sugar and artificial sweeteners, have developed a health halo in America, thanks in part to some strategic marketing by the food and beverage industry. Sure, a small amount of 100% juice is fine for kids every once in awhile, but juice provides a high amount of calories packed into a small portion and lacks the fiber and nutrients that whole fruit provides.

I also like that the campaign mentions all of the issues associated with over-consumption of sugary drinks including cavities, weight gain, and chronic disease.

While the effectiveness of mass media public health campaigns varies, at least this sets a positive example for other organizations looking to develop something similar for their own communities.

Coca-Cola and the fight against obesity

Over the last few weeks, the soda giant, Coca-Cola has been all over the media touting their new commitment in the fight against obesity. Is this a real attempt at being part of the solution or just a public relations stunt to dodge criticism of their sugary, obesigenic products? My guess is the latter.

Let’s take a look at their efforts.

First, Coke released a few commercials such as this, putting all the focus of the obesity problem on individuals and their lack of physical activity.  Note: there is not a single obese person is this commercial:

Next, Coke introduced this infographic, which blames obesity on our consumption of chicken dishes, grain based desserts, and breads, conveniently leaving out the fourth biggest calorie contributor to the American diet: You guessed it, sugar-sweetened beverages.  It also focuses on the old, outdated concept that all calories are created equal, and that calories-in vs. calories-out equates to weight loss. As a registered dietitian, I can assure you that there is a big difference between consuming 100 calories worth of the hyperprocessed carbohydrates found in soda, and 100 calories worth of high-fiber fruit or beans.

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Then, just a few weeks ago, Coke began to lay out the details of their new global obesity-fighting campaign.  This plan includes:

  • Offering low or no-calorie beverage options in every market
  • Making calories more visible on the front of the bottle
  • Stopping advertising to children under 12 everywhere in the world (for years they have claimed to already be doing this in the US, though it has been proven that they are not very good at at it)
  • Promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles

Coke’s website indicates a few examples of these efforts to promote physical activity:

  • Coke will give out Coca-Cola branded soccer balls at major events
  • Coke will distribute pedometers via their MyCokeRewards program
  • Coke is asking families to be active, by turning fitness activities into votes for parks to win recreation grants
  • Coca-Cola “happiness trucks” will drive around “inspiring people to get on their feet and move to the beat” by playing music at dance and fitness events across the country
  • Sponsoring a youth baseball clinic

I would argue that at least half of these supposed “commitments to contribute to health” easily qualify as more marketing for Coke. Furthermore, none of these efforts address the real issue: Americans consume too many calories from sugary drinks.

If Coca-Cola REALLY wanted to be part of the anti-obesity solution, they could:

  • Reduce portion sizes instead of lobbying against efforts like the one introduced by Mayor Bloomberg in New York City.
  • Support soda taxes
  • Stop fighting attempts to remove vending machines and soda marketing in schools
  • Stop infiltrating professional health organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics with biased research that ignores the proven link between sugar-sweetened beverages and poor health outcomes.

But, why would they? Their business is to sell more Coke.

As if you needed any more reasons to call this campaign a sham, I’ll give you three:

1. Coke continues to form partnerships, encouraging the consumption of excessive amounts of sugary soda.

2. Coke finds sneaky ways to disguise more marketing as an act of philanthropy.

3. Coke’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, participated in this VERY uncomfortable interview with CBS, where he seems to be having trouble answering basic questions about the controversy surrounding their anti-obesity campaign.