August 30th, 2013
Food makers' health claims are hard to swallow
By The LA Times editorial board
Los Angeles Times
When ad campaigns make ambitious health claims about Frosted Mini-Wheats, Pom Wonderful or other products, it's important the government challenges them.
A few years ago, Kellogg Co. embarked on an ad campaign to convince parents that eating Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal would make star students of their children, with higher levels of attention and memory. “Clinical studies” — a revered term — showed that a breakfast of the cereal improved children’s attentiveness by “nearly 20%,” the ads said.
There are studies, and then there are studies. This one, sponsored by Kellogg itself, compared children who ate its cereal with those who ate no breakfast at all. So it was misleading to the extent that it suggested that Frosted Mini-Wheats were better at improving attention than any other sort of breakfast. What’s more, as the Federal Trade Commission noted, the study’s findings were misused in the ads. In fact, half the children showed no improvement by eating the cereal, and attentiveness went up by 20% or more in only 1 in 9.
Parents, meanwhile, swallowed the message whole until the FTC demanded that the ads be changed. Kellogg complied.