Got eggs? Marketing eggs in schools.

My daughter returned from school the other day positively bursting with nutritional information.

“Mom, we should eat more eggs.” She said urgently, “they are very healthy.”

“Honey,” I responded “your dad makes you eggs once a week, that’s more than enough, and they actually aren’t a health food.”(My husband and the children eat a spanish tortilla – eggs with potatoes – once a week. I don’t like buying eggs, but if they’re the only animal products in the house, I’m not going to complain. They eat 3 a week – one each- and it takes us about a month to get through a carton).

“They ARE healthy,” she retorted, in a matter-of-fact, slightly condescending voice, “and we need to buy white ones. The brown ones are bad for you.”

I was truly puzzled at this point. We continued chatting as I started to empty her backpack (she’s in first grade, so I do this every day to make sure I have all her homework, etc.).

“Huh? White and brown eggs are exactly the same,” I protested “they’re just different colours, and besides, they don’t sell organic white eggs” I informed her.

“No, they aren’t the same. The white ones are better” she soberly insisted.

Cheerful egg marketing in the schools

At this point, I was cleaning out her agenda and I found a small box of crayons emblazoned with smiling white eggs, paid for by Egg Farmers of Alberta. They’d clearly been handed out at school. It was starting to make sense.

Egg Farmers of Alberta Marketing to Kids

Egg Farmers of Alberta Marketing

She wasn’t finished yet. She unzipped the outside pocket of her backpack and proudly brandished a pamphlet marketing eggs through recipes and “nutritional” information (I wish I’d saved it instead of tossing it out in a huff – it was positively stuffed with bogus nutritional facts about the “weight loss” potential of eggs, etc). “Look, mommy,” she insisted, waving it in front of me “they even have healthy recipes you can make,” she pointed to the recipe section helpfully.

I smiled at her kindly and told her that I take very good care of her health, and that she didn’t need to worry about eggs. She seemed somewhat satisfied, and ran off to play with her sister (I can see this being harder when she’s older).

I spent the next few minutes browsing the egg industry propaganda. I wondered what other industries were allowed to go into schools to hawk their wares. Soda and snack companies? Meat packers? With a sigh, I chucked the brochure.

One of the amazing things about children is their openness to new ideas, and it seems unfair to dump marketing information on them and expect them to decide for themselves. At the very least, they should be offering kids an alternative perspective – maybe a vegan! – but that would undoubtedly upset parents.

Has anyone else experienced this? I’m starting to wonder what other advertisers can I look forward to indoctrinating my kids. I’ve heard egg boards in the US aren’t allowed to tout their product as “healthy”, but they can get around it with clever wording. Here in Canada, they can clearly say anything they’d like.

A quick trip to the Egg Farmers of Alberta website revealed a plethora of materials designed for elementary school students. Strapped for funds and with every good intention, I understand why teachers accept these materials and are grateful for free spokespeople to come and do presentations at their school.

It’s not just schools. Egg Farmers are also marketing eggs to physicians.

Lest doctors advise their patients with heart disease to avoid eggs, The Canadian Egg Marketing Agency provides a brochure designed for older adults entitled “Eggs for the Young at Heart.” The most irresponsible marketing material of the bunch, this pamphlet downplays the link between cholesterol and heart disease asserting that “the latest research shows that healthy adults can enjoy an egg every day without increasing their risk of heart disease.”

To back up their claims, the authors cite a 1999 study which concluded that:

findings suggest that consumption of up to 1 egg per day is unlikely to have substantial overall impact on the risk of CHD or stroke among healthy men and women. The apparent increased risk of CHD associated with higher egg consumption among diabetic participants warrants further research.”[2.(Hu et al, 1999. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA 218(15)1387-1394)]

If this is the best argument they kind find in favour  of egg consumption, they are on pretty shaky ground (also, I wouldn’t exactly consider one study from 1999 the “latest research”). And remember, this brochure is intended for senior citizens, many of whom are likely to suffer from other health issues, including diabetes. Conveniently, the researchers concerns about diabetes go entirely unmentioned in the marketing material.

Instead, the marketing materials ask that seniors ignore cholesterol and examine their fat intake, particularly their intake of saturated fat, found in “foods such as baked goods, pastries, processed foods and whipped toppings.” Eggs, of course, are not mentioned, despite the fact that 1 egg is 50% fat and contains 2 grams of the saturated fat they want their readers to avoid.

Even more troubling is the fact that researches have found startling associations between the global diabetes epidemic and egg consumption. A 2010 paper in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology noted that during the same 1999 study cited by the Egg Farmers of Alberta, patients who consumed 1 egg a day had twice the risk of developing diabetes, compared to their cohorts who had eaten less than 1 egg per week. [3.(Spense, JD, Jenkins, DJ, Davignon, J. Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: not for patients at risk of vascular disease. Canadian Journal of Cardiology  2010 Nov;26(9):e336-9.)] After reviewing a number of studies, the authors of the 2010 paper warned Canadians not to assume that cholesterol was safe. They went even further, likening eggs to cigarettes in terms of their cardiovascular disease risk potential:

Patients at risk of cardiovascular disease should limit their intake of cholesterol. Stopping the consumption of egg yolks after a stroke or myocardial infarction would be like quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer: a necessary action, but late.[4.(Ibid.)]

Hmm. Doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of the “egg a day” mantra the egg marketers would like us to embrace.

The agricultural industry has been aggressively marketing eggs and dairy products to school children and their parents for more than half a century. I wonder what will happen if we discover one day that eggs and milk are as bad for us as cigarettes?

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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