Every now and then a television ad gets me all fired up. Usually it’s an ad by an infant formula company trying to circumvent the tight restrictions against advertising of infant formula. They do this by promoting their ‘toddler’ or ‘follow on’ formulas. Recently, as I curled up happily on the couch watching the season premiere of Offspring, a manipulative and irresponsible ad had me literally yelling at the TV. This one:

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to infant or toddler formula as a rule. I have used it for both my children when they gave up breast-feeding before they turned one. I believe it has a place in the healthy upbringing of many children. I have even recommended Kids Essentials in select circumstances to particular clients.

So what is my problem with the ad?

It’s a simple, but extremely clever ad, in which Nestle taps into a normal parental concern: (Is my child getting everything they need?), and a normal frustration about the nightly battle (I’m so tired of the fight and the waste). The solution, according to Nestle, is a product that is, for 99% of children, completely unnecessary. It is a product and approach to meeting nutritional requirements that is more likely to worsen the problems than solve a single one. In 30 seconds the ad not only unnecessarily escalates these normal concerns with a serious voice and death-toll soundtrack, it undermines parents’ confidence in their ability to manage their children’s intake and behaviours around food – ’But the real worry is you could actually be throwing out the nutrition they need which could have serious consequences for their development.’


Though the ad does say ‘Ask your health professional if Sustagen Kids’ Essential can help’, this product is available off the shelf. The last line of the ad ‘so put back in what gets thrown out’, certainly makes it sound like this is a product for anyone throwing out food from their kids’ plates or lunch boxes… and we all are at some point.

Toddler Formula ad image

The ad opens with the true statement ‘It’s a worry when you have to throw out the food your kids won’t eat.’ However, research has shown that many parents significantly over estimate how much food their children actually need, and with childhood overweight and obesity rates now over 50%, our children are generally not at nutritional risk from undernutrition – it’s the opposite. The food we throw out may well be nutrition they don’t actually need.

Couple this with research that shows that many parents are unable to recognise when their child is overweight and ads like this will have healthy children, of a healthy weight, and even some overweight children being ‘supplemented’ with sweetened milk drinks to prevent them missing out on ‘vital nutrition’.

More than just Nutrition

The child actor in the ad is of a healthy weight. He’s grumpy about having to eat carrot and broccoli, vegemite sandwiches and chicken drumsticks, but smiling happily when he gets his sweet milky drink. Solution found! No need to ever eat normal food again!

Mum and Dad don’t have to worry about trying to teach him to have a healthy attitude to food, or how to cope with being served something he doesn’t want to eat at a friends’ house without having a tantrum. And never mind that he probably won’t want to travel the world because he’ll have to try new food, new experiences, things he knows he doesn’t like even though he hasn’t tried them since he was 4. Why would he do that? He can get everything he needs from a pill or a drink.

And I think this is the crux of the issue.

We have a very good and growing knowledge of how individual nutrients affect our bodies, and can benefit us. This has brought us to an absolute fixation on getting all the right nutrients, exactly right, everyday and not accepting anything less. This ad is an example of how food and nutrition companies, like Nestle among many others, are more than happy to sell us the line that if we don’t get it right our children might not be ‘as good as they can be’….or, as happy, smart, healthy as other children who are getting it all. And the way to get it all is by buying their latest ‘innovation’.

We’ve lost the balance, and lost perspective when it comes to thinking about food.

Food is more than just nutrition. It brings us together. It’s central at all social gatherings, it’s a delight to our senses and a way to get more enjoyment out of life by cooking, sharing and tasting. Importantly, it also is able to provide all the nutrition we need.

Most people, including children, don’t need any ‘supplements’, gimmicks or high calorie, vitamin-fortified drinks. What they need is balance. A variety of fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat or vegetarian alternatives, bread and cereals, occasional ‘extra’ or ‘sometimes’ foods. They need to listen to their body’s signals of hunger and fullness and eat accordingly. Sometimes this will mean not eating everything on their plate. So scraping food off the plate is not always something to fear.

The message of this ad is: Never mind working on our kids’ attitudes and behaviours toward food, it doesn’t matter as long as they are getting all the nutrition they need’. We will do our kids a great disservice if we buy this message. It is more than worth the work to bring up competent eaters – Kids who know what they like, but are OK eating what other people like too.

This post was originally published on Collett Smart’s blog, here.

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