Needed: An Immune Response Against False Health Marketing

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While at my family's breakfast table over the weekend, a Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies box caught my eye.  "Now helps support your child's immunity,"  the box blares.  On the back, Snap, Crackle, and Pop are in superhero form - masks, fighting poses and all.

The trouble is, the claim is not supported by any real scientific evidence.  Yes, vitamins and antioxidants in natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. But exactly what role vitamin-fortified foods play in helping your immune cells fight disease is not understood.

Worse yet, three of the first four ingredients in the cereal are not exactly those which we associate with health: rice, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, and semisweet chocolate. Before you run me out of town for allowing my kids to eat Cocoa Krispies, though, I should add that our kids (usually) supplement their cereal with fresh fruit or yogurt.

The dubious "immunity" claim comes at a vulnerable time for parents. The spread of H1N1 flu has triggered several Chicago-area school closures, including our neighborhood Catholic school. Unfounded fears of viral vaccinationhave parents looking in other directions. Breakfast cereal, however, should not be one of them.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Kellogg's has made false claims about the benefits of their cereal. Just this past July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a formal complaint against Kellogg's for their marketing claim that Frosted Mini-Wheats have been "Clinically shown to improve kids' attentiveness by nearly 20%." Here's a link to the full version of the FTC complaint.

Just for kicks, I sent a note to Kellogg's, asking for references to the scientific study or studies that support their "immunity" claim. I'll post their response.

So what can you do to keep your body's immune system healthy? Getting a good night's sleep, and exercising are both options that have real scientific data behind them.

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