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  • Writer's pictureRachel Gargano


Is there truth in advertising?

Here’s the scenario…

You’re sitting down with your kids watching cartoons … have you ever noticed what the commercials are saying, what they’re telling you and your child what to do? It’s astounding what kid-directed hype food companies can get away with.

There are definitely a few that push my buttons as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist – but a great example is Nutella.

The ad touches on all the hot buttons of a mom’s morning: hectic life, screaming kids, kids won’t eat, the guilt of them not eating, the need to find something nutritious and delicious.

Now don’t get me wrong, Nutella is certainly delicious (I do love a good dollop of the chocolately hazelnut spread on a banana or by a mini spoonful for a treat) – but does it have the nutritional quality that you want to send your kids out the door with?

The ad says that it’s made of “hazelnuts, skim milk, and a hint of cocoa” – what they neglect to point out is that the very first ingredient is sugar followed by saturated fat-filled palm oil. Kinda left out those ingredients, didn’t they?

Food Advertising Guidelines

How can a manufacturer get away with this kind of misleading hype? It turns out that there are specific guidelines put out by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), founded in 1974 under the Council for Better Business Bureaus, which food companies can voluntarily follow while advertising foods to children.

And as of 2007, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) took shape and drilled down further on what can be advertised to children, specific nutrition criteria (developed from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) for foods that are allowed to be advertised to children, and even the option to stop advertising products to children under the age of 13 years old.

Again, these are all voluntary guidelines that companies can opt into following.

These are great developments to help create responsibility within advertising to children, but it doesn’t negate the fact that poor food choices are being promoted to kids and their parents all day every day.

While the Nutella commercial is aimed at parents, a kid watching would absolutely be able to understand and absorb the message.

The product is served on “multi-grain toast and whole wheat waffles” to make it part of a 'nutritionally balanced diet’. In the ad there are glasses of milk and orange juice in front of the kids to round out the meal. But does that make it OK to serve a food with the primary ingredients of sugar and saturated fat to kids for breakfast every day?

That’s what the manufacturers want you to think.

Tips on how to overcome Tele-deception

While an advertisement may make a product look healthy, do your own sleuthing.

  • Before purchasing, look up the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list. Does the product have what it says?

  • Do the benefits sound too good to be true? If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. Many companies say their product benefits have benefits that are not backed by science. Do your research.

Did you know that ads tap into our subconscious? Watching food advertisements may actually make us feel hungry even if we've just eaten.

So if you're feeling peckish all of a sudden while watching TV, don't just go grab something to eat. Put a pause between thought and action. Ask yourself: Am I physically hungry? When did I eat last? If the answer is that you just had dinner one to two hours ago, the ads on the TV likely tapped into your emotions and triggered false hunger.

Don't forget to be your own detective!


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