Personal Responsibility, Childhood Obesity, and Kellogg

[Kellogg's Scooby-Doo cereal ad]

Over at Big Food Inc., “personal responsibility” is a favorite theme. Manufacturers do their best to make snacks and junk food addictive, then turn around and shake their collective finger at the public. They scold us for not accepting enough personal responsibility on behalf of ourselves or our children. Tara Culp-Ressler put it this way:

The food industry typically relies on the “personal responsibility” argument, making the case that additional regulation isn’t necessary because it’s up to each American to make their own decisions about what’s healthy.

So no matter what happens, it’s the consumers’ fault for not reading the label with sufficient attention, or for not doing enough exercise. Personal responsibility covers a lot of territory. But little kids are such an easy sell. They have two criteria: Does it look good? Does it taste good? And frankly, many adults are equally unsophisticated.

Back in 2010, Kellogg got in trouble for “unreliable representation” of Nutri-Grain energy bars. Janelle R. Stanish wrote:

The advertisement features their yogurt bar in front of glasses of water, salads, and people exercising, suggestion that their product is somehow related to a healthy lifestyle. They used the slogan, “Eat Better All Day,” because of the calcium and whole grains contained in the bar. But the plaintiffs of this case argue that those claims are invalid, due to the existence of trans-fat which contribute to diabetes and heart disease.

And that was a product for grownups! Imagine how much easier kids are to fool. Never mind, we don’t have to imagine it, because we see the results of their tendency to fall for things like cartoon characters on cereal boxes, in colors not seen since the black-light posters of the Sixties. In 2013, there was another false advertising lawsuit. The advertising for Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal got out of hand, and pretty soon the Federal Trade Commission was all over Kellogg’s case. Tara Culp-Ressler reported:

In 2009, the food corporation claimed that Mini-Wheats were ‘clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by 11 percent.’

Some people may have assumed that the ‘clinical trials’ that Kellogg’s referenced provided evidence that Frosted Mini-Wheats could be a helpful addition to their hyperactive children’s ADHD medication.

That’s what they were supposed to assume! Maybe they were parents who wanted to take responsibility and do something about their kids’ imperfect cognitive functions. They were doing just what the food corporations nag us to do, being responsible, and the company fooled them. When that debacle concluded, Kellogg was ordered to pay $4 million in compensation to the plaintiffs in the class-action suit.

Lower than what?

Michele Simon believes that Big Food Inc. is in the midst of a “massive public relations charade designed to make us believe they are making positive changes.” She suggests that Kellogg initially tried to tout Scooby-Doo! Cereal as a “lower sugar” alternative, but even they had to realize how absurd it was and turn from that course. The cereal’s sugar content did make a huge difference to the corporate bottom line, however. As Simon explains it:

Some think this product is a positive development because it contains ‘only’ six grams of sugar per serving. But it’s very likely that Kellogg’s motivation was to be eligible for the very lucrative WIC (Women, Infants and Children federal assistance program) market, for which six grams of sugar per serving is the maximum allowed.

Next: more on the personal responsibility.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kellogg’s Must Pay $4 Million After Falsely Advertising Mini-Wheats’ Health Benefits For Kids,”, 06/03/13
Source: “The Obesity Epidemic in America and the Responsibility of Big Food Manufacturers,”, 2010
Source: “Retailer just says no to exploiting children,”, 02/28/13
Image by Kellogg

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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