Supermarket Products Aimed At Kids Aren’t Healthy

Next time you go shopping in a supermarket, researchers suggest that parents think twice before picking up kids focused breakfast cereal, kids snack bars or kids cheese snacks. The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has conducted research on 186 packaged foods targeting children. That research has found that 52% 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.

According to an OPC media release, of the 186 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).

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.

Manufacturers Targeting Children With Unhealthy Food

OPC CEO Jane Martin, said, “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 also said, “it’s a shame that this powerful marketing tactic (fun, colourful characters on food packaging) is not being used to sell more healthy products instead.”

At a time where some research indicates that one in four Australian kids are obese or overweight and that overweight kids are increasingly likely to become overweight adults, plenty of media attention centres on the topic of ‘do food advertisements make kids fat’?

Regardless of which side of the fence one sits, an undeniable amount of evidence suggests that parents and health experts are critical of food manufacturers who currently use a sophisticated range of advertising and marketing techniques to maximise brand loyalty and swamp kids with information on so-called treat foods.

Ask yourself this question, how often are ‘healthy foods’ like vegetables, fruit and lean meats promoted as a tasty, convenient and healthy option for kids? Or consider this point, how many food companies sponsor sporting events to ‘enhance brand awareness’? Think of Cricket Australia. KFC and Milo are significant sponsors of various cricketing pathways that Cricket Australia administrate.

What Do Experts Call For?

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report concluded that marketing of junk food to children has damaging consequences and that tightening restrictions on marketing is central to the fight against childhood obesity. In a CHOICE article published in 2014, health experts that CHOICE spoke to want to see:

  • state governments mandate, and enforce, healthy foods in school canteens and vending machines
  • physical education teachers employed (rather than class teachers taking sport) and the current requirement for schools to offer 120 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week to be enforced
  • mandatory kilojoule labelling in fast food stores extended nationally
  • better food labelling that is easier to understand.

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. Ms Martin, the CEO of the OPC has called “for the Federal Government to extend and strengthen existing junk food marketing regulations”.

What Can Parents Do To Minimise The Impact of Junk Food Advertising?

According to a news article published on the Choice website in 2014, parents can do their part to minimise the impact of junk food advertising and encourage healthy eating.

  • Explain to kids how too much high-kilojoule, low-nutrition food can contribute to weight gain, which can then lead to health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • Reinforce healthy eating messages with simple guidelines like “Go for 2 & 5” (two serves of fruit and five serves of vegies per day).
  • Distinguish between “everyday foods” (healthy foods) and “sometimes foods” (junk foods).
  • Reduce sugary drinks (fruit juice and soft drinks) and treats in lunchboxes.
  • Offer smaller serving sizes.
  • Sit down to dinner together with the TV off.
  • Restrict screen time to two hours a day, at the most.
  • Keep an eye on what your kids watch and the apps they are downloading.
  • Teach kids about how advertising and marketing works so they are not simply passive consumers of media messages.

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