CONFUSING health claims on kids’ food are fuelling the obesity crisis, a study suggests.
Researchers warn parents are fooled into buying products that are not as healthy as they seem.
Getty – Contributor Experts analysed 332 popular kids’ products, including breakfast cereals, ready meals, fruit snacks and fruit drinks
Labels create a “health halo” by highlighting the likes of high fruit and veg content and “no added nonsense”.
But many of these products are still high in fat, sugar, salt and calories.
Boffins from the University of Glasgow analysed 332 products marketed to or popular with children.
They included breakfast cereals and bars, yoghurts, ready meals, fruit snacks and fruit drinks.
All packaging featured positive claims and child-friendly content, such as cartoons or promotions.
But 41 per cent failed to achieve a “healthy” rating when assessed using a common scoring system.
And 75 per cent of products that claimed to contain one of 5-a-day fell short of a standard 80g portion.
Fruit snacks were almost half sugar, cereal bars a third sugar and cereals a quarter sugar.
One in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
They are more likely to be fat as adults, increasing their risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Alamy Childhood obesity has reached a ‘state of emergency’ with record numbers of children leaving primary school now considered fat
Study leader Dr Ada Garcia said her findings showed the need for stricter packaging regulations.
She added “Health and nutrition claims used on product packaging are currently confusing.
“Prepacked foods targeted to children can be consumed as part of a ‘healthy’ diet, yet their health and nutrition claims remain questionable.
“Given the current rising rates of childhood obesity, the consumption of less healthy foods may have long-term negative implications on child health.
“Strict regulations on product composition, food labelling and marketing techniques are required to discourage the promotion of foods which might be considered obesogenic.”
Dr Max Davie, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Given the
UK’s rising levels of childhood obesity, it is essential that parents and children know precisely what is in the products they consume and are not mislead by manipulative marketing campaigns.
“This study reveals concerning findings, particularly the disappointing levels of fruit and veg in products claiming to contain at least one portion of the Government’s recommended five-a-day.
“It is clear that families are being influenced by surreptitious food packaging, and we strongly support the researchers’ call for stricter regulations on composition and labelling.”
Louise Meincke, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This data is shocking and shows another tactic used by industry to encourage people to make unhealthy choices – in this case misleading parents into buying products which are not as healthy as they think.
Getty – Contributor Many items with labels highlighting fruit and veg content are still high in fat, sugar and salt
“It will take a whole-of-society approach to get the obesity crisis under control, including industry stepping up to help parents give their children the best start in life by using correct nutrition and health claims on packaging.”
Kate Halliwell, from the Food and Drink Federation, questioned the researchers’ findings.
She said: “FDF believes that clearly labelling packaged foods can help people eat more fruit and vegetables by making it easier for them to know which products will help them reach their 5-a-day.
“The weight of dried fruit and purees required to count as one of your 5-a-day is based on being equivalent to 80g of the fresh product.“Products containing dried fruit can therefore be legitimately labelled 5-a-day if they have 30g of dried fruit.”
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She added: “Companies have a legal obligation to tell their customers what is in their food and provide ingredients lists and nutrition information per 100 grams on pack.
“The vast majority of companies go beyond this and voluntarily provide simple nutrition information on the front of pack usually based on what a recommended portion would contain.”
The findings are published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
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