Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sara Lee takes the cake on outlandish omega-3 claims

Here's a great example of why front-of-package health claims should be banned entirely - Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Plus DHA bread. According to the press release per slice there's 6mg of DHA.

Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Plus' marketers try to gussy up the importance of 6mg by noting 2 slices worth is,

"is at least 10 percent of the Institute of Medicine’s suggested daily amount for kids, depending on age, ranging from 1-13 years old"
Sounds like a fair bit, no?

Except for one thing, the Institute of Medicine doesn't have a suggested daily amount of DHA for kids.

Page 469 of the very reference that Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Plus' marketers point to as proof states,
"Because of a lack of evidence for determining the requirement for n-3 fatty acids during childhood, an AI is set based on the median intake of α-linolenic acid in the United States where a deficiency is basically nonexistent in non-institutionalized populations (Appendix Table E-11), and rounding."
Translation? There isn't enough evidence to recommend a particular DHA intake in kids so instead the Institute of Medicine has created an arbitrary number for what they're calling an "adequate intake" based on the average intake of α-linolenic acid in the population. Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth marketers then took 10% of that arbitrary number and claimed that it was the Institute of Medicine's "Kids Suggested Daily Amount".

Soft and smooth marketing? I'd say. Slippery too.

Looking at the front of the bag of bread one can see a cartoon head replete with brain beside the bag's DHA announcement and I imagine the back of the bag has some quotes about DHA and childhood brain development.

Looking at Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Plus product partner's website (Disney), you'll learn,
"With New Sara Lee® Soft & Smooth® Plus, moms can enjoy knowing they are serving a great tasting, soft textured made with whole grain bread their little ones will love, plus providing DHA Omega-3 which helps to support healthy brain development.

DHA is important for brain and eye development particularly during the first two years of life and early childhood. It is important that children consume adequate amounts of DHA in their diet to support brain and eye growth and development during the early years of rapid development. DHA ensures that cells in the brain, retina, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly
To help push their message even harder, Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Plus marketers even purchased their own MD spokesperson in one Dr. Alanna Levine.

According to Alanna Levine's homepage, not only is she a designated spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she's also a member of the National Association of Medical Communicators, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media. Oh, and she's also a self-professed, "Parenting Expert".

She sounds great. She's is a pediatrician, an "expert parent" and someone incredibly well versed in medical communication and public speaking with exposure on shows like Fox News, the Tyra Banks Show and CBC's Early Show. Someone like that would never steer you wrong, would they?

For the sake of discussion let's ignore the fact that Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Plus' marketers took soft and smooth liberties with the Institute of Medicine's report on DHA requirements. Instead let's take a quick look at those 6mg of DHA per slice and compare them to what you might find in let's say salmon.

So how many slices of bread would your child need to eat to consume the equivalent amount of DHA as you might find in let's say a child sized, 2.5oz serving of salmon? An astounding 13.5 loaves or 268 slices.

And how much salmon would you need to convince your child to eat to consume the 6mg that a slice of Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Plus contains? My calculations peg that as a piece of salmon roughly 1/12th the size of a single, solitary, lonely pea.

So tell me Dr. Alanna Levine, MD, pediatrician to the stars, brilliant spokesperson and expert parent - don't you think that suggesting that Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Plus bread is a useful means to help your child consume more DHA is more than a touch disingenuous?

Me? I would imagine "parenting experts" and pediatricians would be much more interested and capable of helping find ways for parents to actually feed their children fish, a pea sized serving of which would have the DHA equivalent of 12 slices of Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Plus bread, than push bread with significantly less DHA per slice than you'd find in a single flake of fish.

It's cases like these that are exactly what's wrong with front-of-package nutrition claims and as far as doctors go, I would have thought we make a good enough living on our own than to sell our good names for the promotion of products of questionable benefit.

[BTW - I tried to contact Dr. Alanna Levine, MD for comment but never did hear back from her.]