Published in Appetite, researchers from Auckland University, the British Heart Foundation and WHO Obesity Prevention investigated the nutritional profile and market positioning of 247 ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in New Zealand.
The products were categorized into ‘healthy’ and ‘less healthy’ using the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Calculator (NPSC) – written into law across Australia and New Zealand in January 2013. The NPSC system was introduced to develop scores based on energy, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium content, among other facets, and ensure manufacturers only make claims on ‘healthy’ products.
Findings showed 26% of breakfast cereals were classified ‘less healthy’ when run through the NPSC system and that most of these products were targeting children. More than half (58%) of the 36 kids’ cereals were deemed ‘less healthy’.
Researchers said these products contained significantly lower fiber and protein than their ‘healthy’ counterparts and higher energy density and more sugar and sodium levels.
Findings showed a majority (65%) of ‘less healthy’ cereal products made nutrition claims on-pack and a further 17% made health claims.
In addition, promotional characters featured on 72% of these ‘less healthy’ kids’ cereals.
“It is concerning that ‘cereals for kids’ were generally ‘less healthy’ and more likely to display promotional characters than other breakfast cereal categories,” the researchers wrote.
More needs to be done…
Manufacturers across Australia and New Zealand have until the end of 2017 to comply with the NPSC system, but the researchers urged Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to tighten and better enforce the laws and include use of nutrient claims in addition to health claims, given the number of nutrient claims being made on ‘less healthy’ products.
In addition, they said there was a need for government to develop and endorse food composition targets and an evidence-based, interpretative front-of-pack labeling system – the latter of which had proven successful in neighboring Australia, they claimed.
Claim use a concern
The volume of nutrition claims being made on ‘less healthy’ cereals was of concern, particularly given so many were on products that targeted children, the researchers said.
Of the 65% nutrition claims being made, 40% were around fat – for example low-fat or fat-free claims – and antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. “Such claims may mislead consumers into perceiving those products as healthier,” they wrote.
From a health claims standpoint, the most common used across all cereals (healthy and less healthy) were those around reduction of disease risk. Just under one-third (28%), for example, displayed the Heart Foundation Tick – a reduction of disease risk claim. Of these, 3% were considered ‘less healthy’ products.
The researchers called on more sodium reduction efforts from industry, although acknowledged work had been done.
The National Heart Foundation in New Zealand developed voluntary sodium reduction targets in 2010 which on average had been met, the researchers said.
The target for the end of 2014 was that sodium content should be 600 mg/100 g for puffed rice and corn flakes, 200 mg/ 100 g for oat-based muesli and porridge and 400 mg/100 g for other breakfast cereals.
However, the researchers said New Zealand cereals, on average, did not meet the UK’s 2017 average sodium target of 235 mg/100 g. “Consequently, current voluntary sodium targets for breakfast cereals in New Zealand need to be revised, and ideally food composition targets for sodium, sugar and other nutrients of concern where appropriate should be informed by international best practice and set or endorsed by the government,” they wrote.
In addition, they called on implementation of the health star rating system used in Australia.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.06.019. OCTOBER 2014, Volume 81, Pages 253-260
“Nutritional quality, labelling and promotion of breakfast cereals on the New Zealand market”
Authors: A. Devi, H. Eyles, M. Rayner, C. Ni Mhurchu, B. Swinburn, Em Londsdale-Cooper and S. Vandevijvere