By RYAN GARCIA
A&M University Relations
For parents trying to get their children to eat right, it's an
uphill struggle against marketing campaigns that use vibrant colors
and seductive packaging to lure children into an unhealthy world
of sugar-saturated foods, says a faculty member at Texas A&M University.
Mary Ciani Saslow, senior lecturer in the Visualization Program
at Texas A&M's College of Architecture, initially began studying
children's foods for their aesthetic qualities, but soon found
that when it comes to nutrition all that glitters is clearly not
Saslow's research culminated in an art installation, "Sugar Boy,"
satirizing the lack of nutrients and copious quantity of sugars
infused in the many juvenile delicacies crowding colorful supermarket
shelves across the nation. Sugar Boy was one of many exhibits
featured in the College of Architecture's 2003 Biennial Art Exhibition
held last spring at the J. Wayne Stark Galleries on the Texas
"It's hard to separate the seductive beauty of these packages
from the manufactured products they contain," explained Saslow.
"The goal of my exhibition was to clarify the difference
between attractive packaging outside and sugary products inside,
the difference between what is real and what isn't, and the difference
between good food and products that cause obesity and diabetes.
I wanted to arm children and their parents so they could defend
Saslow found that the problem is not desserts and candy, which
are commonly known to be full of sugar and should be limited to
celebrations and holidays. The problem is that "food" itself is
not what it used to be. She observes that the high sugar content
of many "foods" marketed to children leads to life-long
addictions to fast fuel and an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
The meaning of the words "food," "cereal," "drink,"
"lunch," "snack," and "fruit" have been hollowed out", Saslow
said. "This happened slowly over a long time, so we didn't notice.
Recently it's gone into high gear with companies designing and
marketing new products that fill the middle of the supermarkets.
People who have not shopped for children for a while might be
Cereals marketed to children have more sugar, ounce per ounce,
than Hostess Twinkies, Saslow says. Despite claims of vitamins,
minerals, reduced fat and whole grains, they are around 50 percent
sugar. A parent pays for a full box of cereal, but half is cheap
sugar, so manufacturers can afford to hire the best graphic designers
to make packaging tempting to kids, she explains. All the major
manufacturers also make unflavored cereals that contain at most
seven percent sugar, but they are not among the rows of sugar
cereals at the supermarket at children's eye-level, she adds.
Most drinks sold to kids contain more sugar than the water, milk
and real juices they replace, and none of their nourishment, Saslow
notes. Packaged lunch products also contain high levels of sugar,
and snacks are often candies and cookies that are high in sugar
Although "fruit" refers to sweet and nutritious natural foods
loved by children, it is used liberally to name manufactured products
with brilliant false colors and intense false flavors, Saslow
also observes. And just because a product says "made with real
fruit juices" doesn't make it healthful. Such products can be
made up of more than 50 percent sugar, she notes.
Grams tell the story
Saslow gives an easy rule to find the percentage of sugar in a
product: First, find the number of grams per serving, listed at
the top of the "nutrition facts" panel on the side of the container.
Then look further down the panel to the number of grams of sugar
per serving. For example, if a serving is 30 grams, and there
are 15 grams of sugar per serving, then the product is 50 percent
4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon
It's also easy, she notes, to figure out how many teaspoons of
sugar are in that serving. Since there are four grams of sugar
in a teaspoon, just divide by four the number of grams of sugar
listed. For example, 15 grams of sugar in a serving of cereal
would be equal to 15 divided by 4 or 3 3/4 teaspoons of sugar
- a lot of hidden sugar, she adds.