Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You're a bad parent if you don't feed your kids chocolate

That's my take on Kinder's new, "Have you played today" campaign".

The gist of the campaign?

Treats are an important part of parenting and so to be better parents you've got to make sure you give them treats, more specifically - Kinder chocolates.

Now it's true the chocolates are smaller than regular Kinder chocolates, but that's not really the point. The point is here's a campaign with an incredibly unique marketing pitch. Forget probiotics, omega-3 and fibre. Here we've got chocolate being pitched as a parenting tool; a pitch that suggests that you're a bad parent if you don't give them Kinder eggs.

How does it do that?

By recruiting experts to push their message.

Experts? What expert in their right mind would agree to pitch chocolate to children under the banner of good parenting?

Two in fact. Registered Dietitian Mary Bamford and child Psychologist Dr. Anthony Volk.

So what did they have to say?

When I read Mary's piece entitled, "Treating with Food: What's Okay", I learned that Mary advocates giving children 10-15% of their total daily calories in treat form and that doing so would, get this, teach them about portion control,

"For younger children, allowing around 100 calories per day as a treat allows you to teach the importance of portion control. Older children and female teens are allowed 150 to 200 calories per day and 200 to 400 calories per day for active teen boys."
More strikingly I learned that Mary doesn't seem to be aware of treats other than food as not once does she suggest that such treats exist. She also advises parents not to stress about giving their children chocolate every day because,
"The Kinder Survey reveals that 91% of dietitians agree that parents should feel comfortable including chocolate in their children’s diets on a periodic basis."
I suppose "daily" is technically "periodic". Gee thanks Mary for the sage advice of parents' own hands providing 10% of their children's daily calories as treats and backing that up with a spun-by-you statistic that clearly did not apply to the daily provision of the caloric equivalent of 1 can of Coca Cola for toddlers and small children, 2 cans of Coca Cola to teen girls and 4 cans of Coca Cola daily to teen boys

(I use Coca Cola as an example because Mary has also worked for them suggesting that sugared soda availability helps teach about choice and that it's fine for 10% of your child's daily caloric intake to come from sugar lest they become apparently sugar-crazy teenagers,
"If parents don't expose kids to things in our culture, they're going to go crazy in their teens and so really teaching them reasonable choices is a good way to go so getting 10 per cent of your calories from added sugars is quite reasonable")
And the child psychologist, what about him? He had a lot to say - 4 pieces in total. In his article, "Why Treat" he explains that giving your kids Kinder chocolate every day will:
  1. Encourage sharing between children, promoting patience, fairness, and social skills.

  2. Teach patience and perseverance.

  3. Reward positive behaviour.

  4. Encourage play.

  5. Help build positive parent-child relationships.
To his credit, unlike Mary Bamford he does suggest and support the provision of varied treats but overall hammers home this message,
"Did you know that treats of all kinds – from a special shared experience to a simple chocolate bar – can be used to help build those positive parent-child relationships? In fact, when used as part of overall positive parenting practices, treats can:

  • Show children that their parent is concerned about making them happy, and willing to do things that make them happy.
  • Set a positive mood to make a child more receptive to what a parent has to say.
  • Foster positive interactions between parents and children.
Giving and receiving treats – shared moments of joy – can help to build strong parent-child relationships.

To be clear, it's not as if my wife and I never use food treats with our own children - we surely do but certainly not every day. More importantly our food treats are never given as rewards like Kinder's purchased experts suggest. Why not? Because it's thought that rewarding with food treats (called instrumental feeding) encourages and teaches children to eat for a myriad of cues and may further their risk of eating more than they need, which is probably why in guidelines on the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity rewarding with food is explicitly cautioned against.

So when do we use food treats? Pretty much on a just because/sometimes food basis and we certainly don't link them with the completion of any activity or eating behaviour. We do however treat regularly. Treats may be "special time" with mom or dad, telling them how proud we are of them, how much we love them, warm hugs, favourite activities, etc.

Now I can only hold out hope that Dr. Volk and Mary simply didn't think their involvement with Kinder through, and certainly from Dr. Volk's quote in Sarah Schmidt's article published yesterday in the Vancouver Sun, I wonder whether or not he really understands how Big Food works its magic,
"I think we live in a consumer society, and it’s very refreshing to see companies taking interest in the welfare of children that they’re marketing to. You have to buy things for children, so for a company who wants to sell to children, I think it’s very responsible that they actually try to get experts on board"
Dr. Volk, Kinder's job is to sell chocolate. They used you to do that. Nothing refreshing about it.

[I had seen the campaign months ago but didn't look carefully enough at it. Thanks to Sarah Schmidt from Canwest for forcing me to take a closer look.]