More than Half of Foods Aimed at Children are Unhealthy, Australian Survey Shows

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28 Jun 2017 --- New research by Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has found that more than half of supermarket products marketed at kids are unhealthy. The OPC surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoons or character promotions designed to attract children and found that 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 (e.g. saturated fat, sugars, sodium) present in the food.

According to the coalition, 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).

According to an OPC press release, OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin notes that “at a time when 27 percent 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,” Martin says. "Children are naturally drawn to fun, colorful 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, 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,” she adds.

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.

“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," Martin says. “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.”

The use of cartoons in advertising and on product packaging to appeal to children was recently also called into question in Europe. European consumer organization BEUC recently called on European food companies and retailers to stop using cartoons when marketing nutrient-poor foods to young consumers.

After surveying the presence of mascots on supermarket shelves and online adverts in 13 countries, BEUC found that cartoon mascots appear on foods that the WHO considers unfit for advertising to children, i.e. because they are loaded with sugar, salt or fat. Out of over 100 examples, BEUC members found only one child-friendly character being used to promote a fruit or vegetable. Research has shown that character-based marketing has an impact on children’s dietary behaviors.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is “unequivocal evidence” that the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is strongly linked to childhood obesity. Cartoon characters are an especially powerful and persuasive marketing method to target children. Unfortunately, these characters are overwhelmingly used with unhealthy foods.

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