Critics Raise Eyebrows at Kraft Singles ‘Kids Eat Right’ Label

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has rewarded Kraft Singles, a processed cheese that comes in individually wrapped, thin, plastic film, with its “Kids Eat Right” label.

The stamp of approval is used to notify parents that the product is so labeled because eating it is considered a healthy decision. The campaign behind the “Kids Eat Right” program is to “raise awareness that the diets of America’s kids are falling short in consumption of dairy, calcium, and Vitamin D, according to AND.

The news about Kraft Singles is being met with questions and, in some cases, ridicule, says Kate Bratskeir of The Huffington Post.

Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent Tom Philpott refers to a 2013 report from food industry attorney and researcher Michele Simon in which she shares documentation that reveals the strong ties between thee Academy and big food companies like Kraft. Marion Nestle, Ph.d, M.P.H., a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU wrote on her site Food Politics that:

“Kraft is well known as a sponsor of AND,” Nestle wrote. “Such seals are usually money-raising gimmicks. I’m wondering if ‘proud supporter of’ means that Kraft pays AND for use of this seal. If so, I’d like to know what the seal costs.”

Allison Duffek Bradfield, a registered dietitian at the Duke Raleigh Hospital commented on the Dietitians for Professional Integrity’s Facebook page:

“I’m absolutely disgusted with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They have put the health of our children in jeopardy for money. I am embarrassed to be a part of this organization which clearly has lost its priorities.”

In actuality, Kraft is not allowed by FDA standards to call its Kraft Singles “cheese.” To be “cheese” the product must include 51% real cheese, but the Singles have to be called “pasteurized prepared cheese product.”

Plus, the healthiest foods tend not to have a long list of ingredients – Kraft Singles has 17 ingredients. The Academy says:

“…it does not constitute any endorsement or nutritional seal of approval by the Academy, its Foundation or Kids Eat Right. The Academy Foundation does not endorse any products, brands or services.”

Kraft is a company that has been criticized for the sodium, dyes, fat, and preservatives in the company’s products. Lecia Bushak, reporting for Medical Daily, writes that the whole situation is confusing.  Nutritionists at the Academy say that Kraft Singles contain plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and that should explain why the Singles are good for children to eat.

The Academy’s director of nutrition, Kari Ryan, told The New York Times that 80% of girls and 75% of boys between 4 and 18 do not get enough calcium in their diets. Additionally, Kraft is making an effort to mend its ways. In 2014, the company announced that it was going to remove artificial preservatives from its full-fat American and White American Kraft Singles. And in 2013, Kraft agreed to remove artificial dyes from its Macaroni and Cheese products in the U.S. and Canada.

The question remains: why would AND make Kraft Singles its very first “Kids Eat Right” product? After all, Foodeducate says one slice of the singles contains 70 calories, with 45 of those calories in the form of fat; one slice has 15% of the daily recommended consumption of saturated fat; and 11% of the maximum amount of suggested sodium.

ABC News’ Sydney Lupkin reports Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at NYU Langone Medical Center, says he is confident that consumers would read the Kids Eat Right logo as an endorsement from nutritionists and dietitians, and believe that the product was more nutritious or better for children. Jessica Bennett, a registered dietitian at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said there is the possibility that parents will think of the Kraft cheese slices as health food.

Over the last few years, says Stephanie Strom of The New York Times, the Academy has been criticized by some of its members and health advocates because of what is viewed as overly cozy ties to the food industry. Pepsico, Kellogg, and ConAgra attend the organization’s big annual meeting and host seminars and parties with free promotional gifts. Dieticians for Professional Integrity has been formed by disenchanted Academy members. Founder Andy Bellatti says:

“You would think an organization that has come under fire for so many years for its relations with food companies might pick something other than a highly processed cheese product for its first endorsement.”