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Weight Loss Tips: How the Food Industry Quietly Manipulates Children



Hey everyone, Dr Angela here –

If you were born in the 1970s or later … I have some interesting news for you. Are you ready?

Most likely, you were quietly manipulated by the food industry from the time you were a small child! 

And unfortunately, toddlers these days are REALLY getting targeted. Parents are rushed, trying to do too much, so the food industry has developed really convenient toddler foods for the kiddos. Unfortunately, they’re filled with sugar. So today we’re going to talk about this.

In case you don’t already know me, I’m a medical doctor who specializes in weight loss medicine. I’m also the creator of Journey Beyond Weight Loss, an online program designed to help people lose weight and keep it off. This is the third in my 3 part series on how the food industry hooks us. I’ve talked about how they get us to CRAVE, I’ve talked about how they hook us with CONVENIENCE, and today we’re talking about how they hook CHILDREN. So get it? It’s the 3 C’s of food industry tactics: Craving, Convenience and Children. 

So think back to when you were a child. What were your favorite foods? Mine were frosted flakes, Hydrox cookies (which are the same as oreos today - but a little sweeter), and chocolate ice cream. The Frosted Flakes addiction started when I was very young… I LOVED Tony the Tiger … “They’re GRREEAATT!” right? Well, nowadays, you can find all sorts of cereals marketed to children with favorite cartoon characters. 

So how does the food industry get kids interested in their food products?

Well, the first thing they do is they make sure they have just the right amount of sugar in it. It’s called the BLISS POINT and I explained that in a previous video. In a nutshell, the Bliss Point is what food industry scientists work very hard to achieve - they design products that children will love by experimenting on children, giving them various pudding recipes for example and asking them which one they like better. But they don’t have the child SAY which one they like better. They have the child give it to the stuffed Big Bird that is sitting right next to them. You see, the researchers know that if they ask a kid whether they like ice cream better or broccoli, the kid will say broccoli, in an effort to please, because they know that’s what the adult wants to hear. Kids are smart! So if you ask the child to give it to Big Bird, you can bypass that desire to please, as well as bypass the need for language. This way they can experiment on really young kids, as young as 2 and 3. What they discovered is that kids like their foods much sweeter than adults do.

However, this presents its own problem. Children’s tastes are being formed at these young ages. They are developing preferences, and of course, with all the sugar in kids’ foods, kids are developing preferences for sweet things that will last them for the rest of their lives. This is how we develop the “picky eater.” These kids want only sweeter, processed foods. They do not have a taste for real foods.

As food researcher Dr Julie Minella said – and I’m quoting from the book "Salt Sugar Fat" by Michael Moss: “I think that anyone who makes a product for a child has to take responsibility because what they are doing is teaching the child the level of sweetness or saltiness the food should be.”

The next thing the food industry has to do is to get the child interested in the product… in other words - market the product to the child. There are 2 ways to do this: TV advertising, and packaging. Most companies do both of course.

Michael Moss talks about the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are 200 brands of cereal competing for attention. The big 3 Cereal Makers are Kelloggs, Post, and General Mills. And these companies spend almost twice as much money advertising their cereals as they do on the ingredients that go into them.

So advertising to children is big business. The food industry knows that young children can’t tell the difference between ads and programming. A 1979 Report documented that there were over 7K TV ads for sweets and junk food. So this has been been going on for over 40 years now. A study last year revealed that children who watch 80 minutes of television per day view more than 800 ads for junk food annually! That’s a lot of ads. And remember how vulnerable little kids are. They believe what they see. They don’t realize they are being quietly manipulated. They only know that that cereal, or juice, or candy, looks really good, and when they see it in the grocery store, they WANT IT. I know, I’ve been the victim of this as a parent myself!!

Now here’s the part I find really interesting. Sometimes the food industry will pretend to be on the parent’s side. In 2010, Frosted Mini-wheats developed an award-winning marketing campaign called “Mom’s Homeroom.” The idea was to help Mom’s help their kids do better in school by acting as a one stop shop for school-related resources, including the idea that the child needs to be “Full and Focused” for school with a good breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats before school. The marketing genius behind this said “Frosted Mini-Wheats proved that we were not only talking the talk, we were Mom’s true partner in helping her kids succeed in

school.” They're still doing it now! But here’s the deal: Frosted Mini Wheats will do nothing to help our kids focus. This 12 grams of added sugar (about 25 of the little biscuits), it has the opposite effect. The sugar will make them hyper and unfocused.

Here’s another interesting children’s product: Lunchables. It’s another one that’s actually more of a product for busy moms who are rushed in the morning trying to get kids’ lunches packed and get them out the door. Michael Moss, who i mentioned before, talks about how Lunchables came to be. In the late 80s, bologna sales were down and Oscar Mayer was in trouble. They needed to think of a new way to market bologna. Oscar Mayer’s Marketing magician Bob Drane gathered a bunch of creative people at the company and they began to think through ideas. Mothers of school age children told them that mornings were tough… trying to get the kids dressed, get breakfast, get lunch made. So they decided to try to make this little package of bologna slices, with cheese and crackers. The way it was packaged, it was almost like a gift that Mom was giving her child on the way out the door. And the kids LOVED them. Lunchables flew off the shelves. Turns out the kids loved them so much because it gave them a chance to play with their food, to assemble it. They were in charge of how they ate them and they loved it. When Lunchable sales started to wane, Oscar Mayer decided to spruce Lunchables up by adding sugar to it – candy bars and Capri suns. They made all different varieties, like pizza lunchables and taco lunchables…. And even now, even though they are not nutritionally sound, with tons of saturated fat and 25 grams of added sugar, Lunchables fly off the shelves. The perfect kid lunch!

So we’ve been talking about the past, but let me tell you this is still going on, and the food industry is starting to go after younger and younger children. So we have a dizzying array of toddler milks, snacks, squeezy packets, all so convenient - and convenience for parents to throw back to the kid in the car seat. But these things are full of sugar, further training children into thinking that all foods should taste sweet. They even boast ingredients that are supposed to make children stronger and smarter or boost the immune system. These Gerber puffs are really no more nutritious than Cheetos.

So how is this affecting our children? ? Well, here are the most recent stats on childhood obesity: 18.4% of America’s 6 to 11 y­ear-olds have obesity, and 20.6% of America’s 12 to 19 year-olds have obesity. That’s one in 5 by high school. 1 in 4 high school students has pre-diabetes, and we are screening 10 year olds for adult onset diabetes. We have no idea how to help someone live with type 2 diabetes for 5 or 6 decades… or if these children will even live that long. And a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Study found that childhood obesity costs us $14 BILLION (Billion with a B!) a year in DIRECT health care costs. ­­­­

I’m concerned for the future health of our children are you? So, I’m not going to leave you hanging - what can YOU do about this? Here’s the top 5 things you can do today to help combat food marketing and throw a dent in corporate profiteering at the expense of our children.

1. Limit kids’ exposure to advertising. (Including Fast Food advertising!) Yup. Don’t fall for these food industry marketing tactics. Junk food is junk, no matter what cartoon characters are on the label or how convenient it is. You can suggest they watch channels without commercials (Netflix, Prime, Etc.) 

2. Cook and eat real unprocessed foods. This is not easy, I get that. But it’s not impossible. Can you spend a couple minutes on Sunday bagging carrots and celery so that those are on hand to grab instead of fruit snacks?

3. Avoid giving kids sugary beverages like Gatorade or sodas. It’s hot these days – and ice water with a little lemon is perfect! Or stick a strawberry raspberry in it - it feels like a treat!

4. Teach kids that it’s important to nourish their bodies with good whole foods that will help them think clearly and give them tons of lasting energy.

5. Think of non-food rewards for good behavior or for winning the baseball game - don't take them out for Ice Cream! (Once Covid is a thing of the past!) Perhaps a trip to a local amusement park? Or the movies? Or perhaps a sleepover, or a new toy. Or perhaps a star on a chart. I still love those!

So that’s all for today. I hope this has given you some food for thought. The food industry really is working hard to quietly manipulate you to buy their products – to get you to crave, to make it convenient for you, and to get kids hooked at an early age. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and to recognize that hey- maybe this isn’t worth it, right? Please share any ideas you have for non-sugar rewards for children!

If you want support getting off sugar yourself, be sure to download my 5 - Day Sugar Detox menu… it’s available here.

To your health, 

Dr. Angela


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