Childhood Obesity and Kellogg’s Split Personality

A Kellogg's Ice Cream Shoppe Frosted Rainbow Cookie Sandwich Pop-Tarts

A Kellogg’s Ice Cream Shoppe Frosted Rainbow Cookie Sandwich Pop-Tart

The Kellogg Company has a split personality that is fascinating to people who care about and write about childhood obesity. Through its W.K. Kellogg Foundation, it funds researchers who study the problem and magazines that publish the work of those researchers. At the same time, the company itself is a big part of what has gone wrong. When the journal Childhood Obesity launched, Dr. Pretlow noted:

The Kellogg Foundation’s trust assets include $4.1 billon of Kellogg Company common stock (out of $6.4 billion total assets)…. In effect, a major food company is funding a childhood obesity scientific journal.

What’s the problem exactly? Here is an example. Dr. Pretlow’s post listed some of the many sugar-laden Kellogg products, and he took particular notice of the fact that Pop-Tarts “are marketed as entertainment for kids with the slogan, ‘Made for Fun.’ ” If there is any notion that does not need to be planted in the minds of children, it is the concept of recreational eating. Can a peer-reviewed scientific journal hold onto objectivity and impartiality when its allowance is paid by a foundation whose ability to bestow grants comes from selling Pop-Tarts?

In essence, the company itself proposes that if we buy more sugar-laden, nutritionally void products, they will give a little bit of their profits to a foundation that supports research into how to escape the consequences of consuming a lot of sugar-laden, nutritionally void products. Does this make any sense at all? But on the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world. Because who else should be more obligated to fix the problems that result from the products?

The snack food industry, by the way, does not characterize any of its creations as sugar-laden or as nutritionally void. Their word for it is “energy-dense,” and it seems to be a term accepted by both sides so they can communicate with each other. Last year, for instance, the Australian authorities closed down a Coco Pops TV ad for marketing a product made of about 35% sugar directly to children. Jane Martin of the Obesity Policy Coalition said:

Consumption of energy dense, high-sugar products such as Coco Pops can contribute to poor diets and lead to weight gain and obesity in children. It is irresponsible to promote a high sugar cereal to children.

When the magazine Childhood Obesity began publication, the apparent conflict was also picked up on by Michael Prager, who addressed the concerns in a post titled “Independent-ish.” One of his points was that about two-thirds of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s wealth consisted of Kellogg’s stock. While acknowledging the good reputation of the foundation, he did express misgivings:

If someone’s research shows that highly sugared cereals such as Frosted Flakes are unhealthy for children — and does anyone think otherwise?! — that paper seems pretty unlikely to find receptive editors at Childhood Obesity.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation website helpfully lists its donations to various causes. Searching “healthy kids” brings back 651 results, while a search for “childhood obesity” yields 24. The foundation supports the National Hispanic Health Foundation, the Notah Begay Foundation, the Mississippi Public Health Institute, and many other worthy institutions.

But if super-intelligent aliens landed and studied humanity by assessing this particular situation, they would surely ask, “Rather than sell these products to kids and then pay organizations to study obese children, why not just stop selling these products to kids?” What answer would we have for them?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kellogg pulls Coco Pops ad after OPC complaint,” vic.gov.au, 06/20/13
Source: “Independent-ish,” MichaelPrager.com, 12/21/10
Source: “Healthy Kids,” WKKF.org, undated
Image by theimpulsivebuy

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