The study – published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood – found that a large proportion of products marketed to children could be contributing to the growing obesity crisis, unbeknownst to parents.
The team from the University of Glasgow examined 332 products from 41 different brands, including breakfast cereals, fruit snacks, fruit-based drinks, dairy products and readymeals, sold in seven major UK supermarkets between 2016 and 2017.
Using the Ofcom NPM – the nutrient profile model used to reflect UK dietary recommendations – as a basis, they concluded that close to half the products (41.0%) were classified as less healthy.
Cereal bars were likely to be classified as less healthy, followed by breakfast cereals and fruit snacks.
They also noted the use of cartoon characters, toys and promotions (91.6%), nutrition claims (41.6%) and health claims (19.6%) were common marketing techniques.
The ‘one-of-five-a-day’ claim was also prevalent (41.6%); however, 103 of the products examined – or 75.4% – actually contained less than 80g of fruit and vegetables.
The study also revealed the sugar content was still high in fruit snacks (16.2g/100g), cereal bars (7.5g/100g) and breakfast cereals (8g/100g), despite Public Health England’s target to reduce sugar by 20% by 2020.
“Processed fruits are perceived by the public as a healthy natural alternative to added sugars, but because of the breakdown of the cellular structure, they potentially have the same negative effect on weight gain as other forms of sugar, which is why they have recently been classified as free sugars in the UK,” said lead researcher Dr Ada Garcia.
The researchers are calling for stricter regulations on food labeling and product content.
“Prepacked foods targeted to children can be consumed as part of a ‘balanced and 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.”
Authors: García AL, Morillo-Santander G, Parrett A, et al
Published online rirst: April 4, 2019