business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post reports on a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest saying that virtually every combination of children’s meals sold by fast feeders such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box, and Chick-fil-A are too high in calories, and that “eating out now accounts for a third of children's daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home 30 years ago.” And, the report said that “45 percent of children's meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86 percent of children's meals are high in sodium.”

In other words, a nutritional disaster.

Examples cited: “Burger King has a ‘Big Kids’ meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk at 910 calories, and Sonic has a ‘Wacky Pack’ with 830 calories worth of grilled cheese, fries, and a slushie.”

According to the story, “The report looked into the nutritional quality of kids' meals at 13 major restaurant chains. The center found 93 percent of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories - an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day.”

The report recommends, among other things, that restaurants not just offer healthier choices – as opposed to choices that they just say are healthier – but also provide more specific and complete nutritional information on menu boards.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) responded to the report by saying that “the trend in the industry was to provide ‘more detailed nutritional information and choice in menu options for consumers’,” according to the Post story. “But the group stressed that ‘exercising parental responsibility is key to childhood nutrition.’ The report, it said, ‘fails to acknowledge the essential role of nutrition education, physical activity and parental responsibility in childhood nutrition - good eating habits and healthy living must be established in the home’.”

KC's View:
Of course it is ultimately parents’ responsibility. Nobody argues with that. But that ignores the fact that so many of these chains spend gazillions of dollars marketing their products to kids, offering them prizes and enticing them with clown mascots and the like, in some ways undermining parents in every possible way.

(I always wonder how the parents who work as executives putting out “Wacky Pack” meals and the like feed their own children. Are they more responsible parents than they are executives? And how do they manage to turn off their parental concerns when they go to work in the morning. Just curious.)

(One other parenthetical thought. Is it any wonder that a group of pediatricians recently recommended early childhood cholesterol screening , and even the use of statin drugs where appropriate?)

But let’s put the ethical and health issues aside for the moment.

Supermarkets, which by their very nature offer a broader array of healthy choices, ought to be using reports like these as selling tools. They ought to post the new stories about these reports in the appropriate store departments, using the information to help people realize why healthy eating is important.

Of course, it isn’t enough to demonize the fast feeders. You also have to offer real and appetizing options and alternatives.