07/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Trouble With "Healthy" Kids Food

Most parents already know that sugary sodas and greasy potato chips are not the healthiest food choices for children. But what about the hundreds of other widely available and kid-friendly packaged foods -- pastas, frozen dinners, granola bars -- that at least appear to be more wholesome?

A new Canadian study suggests that even these foods -- most of which make nutritional claims on their packaging -- aren't all they profess to be. University of Calgary researchers analyzed the nutritional benefit of more than 360 such products, often marketed as "fun foods," which are aimed at children either through kid-friendly package graphics or tie-ins with children's TV shows and movies. Three-quarters of these foods, for example, came in packages bearing cartoon images. Researchers did not include junk food in their analysis, but they found that nearly 90% of kid products still did not meet established nutritional standards. What's more, 62% of the foods that researchers deemed to be of "poor nutritional quality" made positive nutritional claims on the package -- such as being low-fat, containing essential nutrients or being a source of calcium. "If a parent sees a product that makes specific nutritional claims, they may assume that the whole product is nutritious," says author Charlene Elliott, a communications and culture professor at the University of Calgary. "Our study has shown that that is definitely not true in the vast majority of cases."

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