When the last time you saw an ad on TV extolling the joys of eating broccoli? How many commercials do you see celebrating the delicious virtue of eating a banana or an orange? Food manufacturers have one goal - to get viewers hooked on the products that make them money...lots of money. And the products are usually nutritionally vacant and quite tasty. So we can point our finger at the home environment, and the school environment and urban settings that don't encourage healthy eating and exercise, but kids watch a lot of TV and TV ads sell processed high fat, high calorie foods.
The typical cut off point of sugar in a "healthy cereal" is about 3 teaspoons (12 grams of sugar). As a nutritionist I employ a much tighter standard (6 grams of sugar/serving) and I then coach clients to add fruit or apple butter or nuts to add taste to these less sweet cereals. The conundrum gets further complicated when you begin to realize that certain manufacturers are indeed making cereals, that target the less than 12 grams of sugar stipulation, but are still empty of nutrients (think Frosted Flakes). An even more serious problem is that a number of different healthy guidelines or standards are employed by different companies. So though one product may meet a healthy seal of approval designation, a harsher set of standards by another company would call that food "junk."
Add in movie and TV product placement and toys that come with foods and now you are even more challenged as a parent to feed your child healthy fare without getting into hourly battles over food. What child who watches TV doesn't want a happy meal with a gift? Well, a small movement in a city in California is aiming to outlaw foods that come with gifts. I still remember begging my mother to buy me the cereal that had a gift buried inside. Typically those special cereals back in the day were high in sugar and considered special purchases. Well now they are commonplace, the norm. What can you as a parent do?
Start by controlling TV time for 2 reasons. First of all if your child is watching TV they're not moving - and they need to move to burn calories. Secondly, you'll have some control over how many ads with these enticing foods and gifts they see. You can also begin to dialogue with them, taking them shopping and having nutrition math lessons, and discussions about ingredients and nutritional facts. Kids are smart and they will actually appreciate being exposed to "adult concepts." You can also make your feelings known to manufacturers by posting comments on "mommy blogs" and by logging comments on their manufacturer websites. You might also consider, if you live in NY, that a soda tax is a really helpful tool to help control the manufacturing industry that produces sugary drinks.