Which food company is killing us the quickest?

Gareth MorganHealth

It is that time of the year again – time to vote for the Munch Awards, including the worst kid’s food product and worst kid’s food marketing campaign. This time the voting is nicely timed to fit with Diabetes Awareness Week. Today’s blog looks at which of the foods in the Munch awards is preparing our kids for a lifetime of diabetes and all the ghastly complications that the disease entails. The answer is not as easy as you would think.

Diabetes and its causes

Diabetes is diagnosed when a person has too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. Sometimes this is genetic (Type I diabetes) or brought on by pregnancy (Gestational diabetes). But these days the most common form of diabetes is Type II, and poor diet is a major cause. As we saw in our book Appetite for Destruction, diabetes is one of New Zealand’s fastest growing diseases (one in 4 Kiwis are at risk) that has many nasty side effects.

Eating too much sugar in particular is a big contributor to diabetes. The average Kiwi eats around 29 teaspoons of sugar each day – some of that comes from natural sugars found in fruit, milk and veges but it is still way too much. The World Health Organisation recommendation is 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Want to learn more? Watch this video

Munch Award Nominees

So which of the Munch Award Nominees for 2014 are making the biggest contribution to the coming diabetes epidemic? It is for you to decide, but we thought we’d give you a few things to ponder.

First up, here are the nominees for Worst Kid’s Food Marketing Campaign:

  • Kinder surprise – Smurfs
  • McDonalds – Happy Meals
  • Kelloggs Nutri-Grain – Fuel On
  • Milo – The Official Drink of Play
  • McDonalds Sponsorship of most kids sport
  • New World Little Shop (we’ve talked about this before)

And for the Worst Food Product:

  • Kellogg’s Frosties
  • McDonalds – Happy Meals
  • Coca Cola
  • Annie’s Fruit Leather
  • Fanta
  • Twisties
  • Cocopops
  • Milo
  • Nutri-Grain
  • Nice and Natural Fun Mix Watches and Strings

So who should win the title of Worst Food Product?

Soft Drinks

For their direct contribution to the diabetes epidemic, the answer would have to be the soft drinks such as Coca Cola and Fanta. A 600ml bottle of Coke will contain 16 teaspoons of sugar – a ghastly 20 teaspoons for Fanta. Remember that the recommended daily amount is 6 teaspoons. Far worse – we know that these sugary drinks are not recognized as food by the body, so we end up eating more overall. Drinking soft drinks the quick road to obesity and diabetes.

However, you could argue that most people are aware that soft drinks are junk food. While they try to woo us with role models that clearly don’t drink the stuff, they don’t pretend to be good for you. The same cannot be said for some of the other nominees.

Breakfast Cereals

In Appetite for Destruction we saw that many breakfast cereals, despite being marketed as something you should eat every day, would more accurately be placed in the dessert aisle. The same could also be said for their mutant little cousins, muesli bars.

Kelloggs is rightly targeted by the Munch Awards, but most other cereal brands aren’t a lot better. Three Kelloggs cereals are Munch Award nominees – all three target children and all three are stacked full of sugar. Frosties is 41% sugar, Coco Pops is 37% sugar and Nutri-Grain is 32% sugar.

Despite having the lowest sugar of the trio, Nutri-Grain is arguably the worst as it markets itself as a healthy cereal for kids. It even has the gall to give the impression that it would help your child grow up as an Ironman. Well, he or she would need to be in order to work off the sugar hit in a typical bowl. Nutri-Grain is undoubtedly the most distant from its marketing persona as a nutritious breakfast for sporty kids.

Are breakfast cereals worse than soft drinks? Not from a purely nutritional standpoint. Unlike soft drinks these cereals, for all their faults, do at least contain some small nutritional value. However, studies have shown that foods marketed as healthy benefit from a ‘health halo’; people eat more of them because they think they are healthy. For those people that are fooled by the breakfast cereal marketers, breakfast cereals could therefore be a bigger problem than soft drinks.

Sugary Snacks

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain is not the worst junk food marketed as a healthy snack. Perhaps the most terrifying trend at the moment is the appearance of sugary snacks disguised as healthy ones, and brands like Nice and Natural are definitely guilty of this.

Firstly, just look at the name – nice & natural. It sounds like it is supposed to be healthy. The products are placed in the muesli bar aisle, which still carry a health halo even though they generally don’t deserve it. Parents shopping here are looking for easy, tasty and nutritious lunch box fillers. If they wanted confectionary they would go to that aisle instead.

Next the packaging – covered in pictures of fruit, which is also supposed to be healthy, and claims that it is mostly made of fruit. This marketing is all technically true, but what they are not telling you is that by fruit they mean fruit juice. Once the fibre and nutrients of the fruit are removed, this is essentially sugar. The simple fact is that these snacks are a whopping 60% sugar. There is nothing separating them from a lolly, yet they have the gall to market themselves as healthy lunchbox fillers.

For this reason, Nice & Natural Fun Mix Watches and Strings get our pick for the Munch Awards Worst Food Product.

You can vote for the Munch Awards here.

Note the the image used above is the cover for a documentary “Killer At Large”

Which food company is killing us the quickest? was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.