More than half of foods aimed at kids are unhealthy: research

Tuesday 27 June, 2017

More than half of supermarket products marketed at kids are unhealthy, new research from the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has revealed.

The OPC surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoons or character promotions designed to attract children - 52 percent were classified as unhealthy by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion calculator, which looks at the amount of energy and certain nutrients (eg saturated fat, sugars, sodium) present in the food.

Of the products containing cartoons or character promotions, the following were deemed unhealthy:

  • 87% of kids' snack bars (26 of 30 products surveyed)
  • 88% of kids' ice-creams and icy poles (30 of 34 products)
  • 61% of cheese snacks (17 of 28 products)
  • 32% of kids' breakfast cereals (13 of 41 products)
  • 19% of kids' dairy snacks (10 of 53 products).

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said at a time when 27 per cent of Australian children are overweight or obese, it's shocking to see so many manufacturers directly targeting children with unhealthy food.

"It's extremely frustrating to see cartoons and animations being used to lure children and create pester power to push parents into buying unhealthy products for kids," Ms Martin said.

"Children are naturally drawn to fun, colourful characters on foods in the supermarket, and food companies are fully aware of this. They know that children have an incredible amount of power over what their parents buy[i], and that's why Chile, a country that has been very progressive in obesity prevention, has restricted the use of cartoons on unhealthy food packaging.  

"It's a shame that this powerful marketing tactic is not being used to sell more healthy products instead."

Among the unhealthy products which used cartoons to appeal to children were Kellogg's Frosties, which are 41 percent sugar, and Kraft Cheestik Sticks which contain 17.5g of saturated fat per 100g.

Food advertising in Australia is basically self-regulated, leaving food and advertising industries to make and break their own rules. Current industry-led regulations do not cover food packaging.

"In Australia, the use of cartoons and characters on food and drink packaging is allowed, even under weak self-regulation, providing an unfettered marketing tool for food advertisers to target children," Ms Martin said.

"We want food manufacturers to stop using animations to promote junk food in any way to kids and for the Federal Government to extend and strengthen existing junk food marketing regulations.

"Peak health bodies, such as the World Health Organization, recognise that restricting junk food marketing to children is a vital step in improving children's diets and slowing our serious obesity problem. Urgent action is required to protect our children from the plethora of junk food promotion that surrounds them."

 Sample of unhealthy products included in the study which use cartoons or characters to target children:

 

  

[i] Cairns, G., K. Angus, and G. Hastings, The extent, nature and effects of food promotion to children: A review of the evidence to December 2008, 2009, WHO: Geneva

Media contact: Shannon Crane 0432 157 270 shannon.crane@cancervic.org.au