Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Think a Class Action Lawsuit Will Stop Nutella from Making Ridiculous Claims? Think Again.

In case you hadn't heard Nutella was hit with a class action lawsuit consequent to their promotion of Nutella as, "An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast", when in actuality, at least by the numbers, Nutella's not quite as balanced as no-name chocolate icing.

Now much has been made about the suit and how it's going to stop Nutella from making that claim, but the thing is, it's not.

I took a phone call the other day from a consumer advocate lawyer named Mark Lavery who's opposed to the settlement as written. He alerted me to this paragraph,

"Ferrero will modify the back panel of the label for Nutella (the “Information Panel”) by removing the phrase "An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast” and replacing it with “Turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one” (the “Revised Statement”). Ferrero retains the right to determine, in its sole discretion, the location, size and other design characteristics relating to the Revised Statement"
Mr. Lavery's concern, and it's one that I share, is that the new statement, "Turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one", is just as disingenuous as the original. Wouldn't adding chocolate icing to your breakfast "unbalance" it, or is the goal to "balance" healthy with sugar to ensure it's not too healthy? My additional concern is that not only does it still seem to suggest Nutella is a nutritious choice, it now suggests that actually healthy breakfasts aren't tasty.

Now I realize that many people felt this lawsuit was frivolous and I'm not going to get into that here, I just want to ask you, do you think the new statement is any less misleading than the old one?

I've written a brief statement for Mr. Lavery. If you're interested in doing the same, you can reach him here. Deadline's this Friday.
Declaration of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD

My name is Yoni Freedhoff and I’m a physician, an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa, the former Family Medicine Chair of the Canadian Obesity Network, a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and a vocal public health advocate.

People often think healthy living is intuitive. They think that since they can envisage what “healthy living” looks like in their minds, that it’s therefore a simple choice. If only that were the case. While there is no shortage of impediments to healthy living in our modern world, certainly one of the most prevalent and dangerous is disingenuous marketing. People simply don’t have the time, background or frankly the inclination to read food labels carefully, let alone understand them - a fact that perhaps has not been lost over the years on the marketers of Nutella.

Looking at the settlement’s injunctive relief I’m confused by the proposed wording which in my mind is no less misleading than the original which was in question. The statement, “Turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one” implies two things. First that adding Nutella to a balanced breakfast would still leave that breakfast “balanced”, and secondly that actually balanced breakfasts aren’t tasty.

Again, nutrition isn’t intuitive, and in large part that knowledge gap is fueled by marketing. Having watched my fair share of television commercials, and read my fair share of magazine advertisements, I know that included in Nutella in some capacity are hazelnuts and milk - nutritional heroes to many. Perhaps that’s why even I was surprised to learn that in a head to head comparison with no name chocolate icing, Nutella was found to have 25% more calories and nearly 30% more sugar. In fact by weight Nutella is 57% sugar (21g of sugar per 37g serving) and as far as nutritional benefits go, Nutella’s are negligible at best providing an effectively insignificant 4% of daily calcium and iron needs.

Which brings me back to the question of whether or not Nutella can be a part of a “balanced” breakfast? As a medical doctor and an expert in both nutrition and obesity I would argue that adding a dollop of no-name chocolate icing to a “balanced” breakfast would in fact unbalance it, making what was once healthy, not. Consequently one might argue that adding a dollop of Nutella with 25% more calories and 30% more sugar than no-name chocolate icing, regardless of the miniscule amounts of calcium and iron Nutella may contain, would perhaps make that breakfast 30% more unbalanced than would adding the icing were such a measure actually quantifiable.

Personally I liken Nutella to a spreadable chocolate bar. If you believe that adding a chocolate bar to a balanced breakfast leaves it balanced, then by all means give Nutella this marketing get-out-of-jail free golden ticket. On the other hand, if you think allowing Nutella to explicitly continue to suggest, in a society where 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese and the rates of pediatric diabetes are skyrocketing, that the inclusion of chocolate bars with children’s meals precludes nutritional balance, perhaps the wording of this settlement’s proposed injunctive relief deserves a sober second look.

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.

Executed on June 5th, 2012


Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD, CCFP, Dip ABOM
Assistant Professor, Family Medicine, University of Ottawa
Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
575 West Hunt Club, Suite 100
Ottawa ON K2G5W5