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Nutritionists soured by Olympic candy endorsement

By
GINO DEL GUERCIO, UPI Science Writer

BOSTON -- A group of 250 nutritionists says the designation of M&Ms and Snickers bars as the 'official snack food of the 1984 Olympics' wrongly implies the candies are endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Committee and are nutritious.

'The present labeling is misleading in that it leads consumers to believe that these candies are endorsed by the Olympic Games as a nutritious snack food choice,' said Edward C. Goodstein, a registered dietitian at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Boston.

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While most products call themselves an 'official sponsor of the 1984 Olympic Games,' the Mars Co., manufacturer of the candy, list its products as an 'official' snack food.

The Olympic Committee allows products to associate themselves with the Olympics based on contributions, not on the quality of the product.

Goodstein said Mars contracted to supply free candy to the Olympic athletes and officials and contributed more than $4 million to the Olympic Games. In return, the Mars Co. has been given the exclusive rights to promote its candy as the official Olympic snack food.

'In fact, such products were not at all chosen for their nutritional value,' a committee spokesman said.

Goodstein said his group is concerned that because of the candies' Olympic label, 'little kids figure that if they eat Snickers or M&Ms they will become athletes.'

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'But these candies don't have much nutritional value. They're high in sugar, high in fat and high in calories.'

'As health professionals, we particularly object to the use of the Olympic athlete, a symbol of the best in health and strength, to promote high-sugar snack foods. We try to teach children the importance of limiting their intake of sticky, sugary foods like candy, especially as snacks in between meals when tooth decay is most apt to occur.'

'This may be a subtle point,' Goodstein said, 'but the label is deceiving. I think it confuses people. This is a tacit endorsement.'

A Mars nutritionist, Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, said the candy bars have nutritional value and are especially valuable to athletes.

'Athletes have greater demands for energy than many of us sedentary types and therefore these candy bars are very well suited for them to maintain the proper energy level. Athletes do have greater demand for energy and candy is one way to get it,' he said.

He said a Snickers bar has calcium and protein.

'They probably learned from their grandmothers and mothers that candy is not good for you,' he said, referrring to Goodstein and other critics.

At a recent convention of nutritionists and registered dietitians, Goodstein organized a petition -- which 250 members signed -- to address 'this misconception and to urge that the present labeling and related promotions be changed to more accurately reflect the sponsorship nature of the association.'

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Goodstein conceded that some athletes do eat candy bars to increase their calorie intake, but he hastened to add, 'This is still a very controversial topic.

'In addition, what's good for athletes isn't necessarily good for everyone. Athletes may have to consume 4,000 to 5,000 calories, whereas average adults only need 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day unless they exercise a great deal, like Olympic athletes.'

Goodstein said he urges people to write their members of Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the 1984 Olympic Game Committee and the Mars Co.

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