Friday, August 7, 2009

Busted at belly bombing

The con’s over for the 10-year-old desperados who profess to be my nieces. The adorable little flimflammers have been playing me for years, laser-targeting those doe-eyed looks of sainthood to wheedle a pre-dinner soda or ice cream bar. After all, I’d think as I slid some sugary snack their way, the little dears don’t know any better. Why not indulge their misguided innocence, just this 15th time?

Then I read a research report from Technomic and C3, an agency that specializes in kids’ marketing. Seems that kids are well aware of what’s healthful to eat. But, just like lots of adults, they don’t want to eat it.

Nearly nine out of every 10 ankle-biters know that fresh vegetables and fruits are good for them, for instance. The problem is that many prefer the fruit filling of a PopTart or jelly doughnut.

Similarly, 78% cited salad as something they should eat for health reasons, and 76% mentioned steamed vegetables, no doubt as they were munching on some fries.

One of the more intriguing questions raised by the research is how the kids might’ve learned what’s healthy. Indeed, that unanswered point of interest could turn the data into a weapon for both sides on the obesity debate.

Those who assert the industry should be required to offer healthier options for kids can underscore the finding that salads are now among the most common items on the kids’ menus of full-service restaurants. Put salads on the menu, and the youngsters learn this is what they should be eating. The push-what’s-good-for-them proponents can point to that and claim victory.

Yet the restaurant industry can just as readily contend that, first, they are providing plenty of healthful choices to kids and their parents, and, second, that doesn’t mean behavior is going to change. The kids have to want the healthier fare, or be taught to eat it by their parents. Public health advocates can demand all the healthful menu choices they want, but it doesn’t mean the little folk are going to order them.

Indeed, the study found that children aged 9 and under—the ones who are most likely to depend on Mom or Dad for guidance in ordering within a restaurant—are more likely than their older siblings to order the type of stuff that drives Michael Jacobson crazy. Technomic found that those kids will go for the fries, chicken fingers and pizza, while children aged 10 to 12 will opt for dinners like salads, seafood or steak.

Yet, the study found, restaurants are continuing to develop menu options that are perceived as healthy, particularly certain beverages and natural or organic items.

Meanwhile, I have to perfect my withering comeback for the next cupcake request. They already (successfully) put the bite on me for ice cream, including a cone of some fluorescent pink flavor called Crazy Cotton Candy.

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