Campaign groups are calling on the UK Government to ban the use of cartoon characters on the packaging of unhealthy products aimed at children, and to mandate traffic light nutrition labelling to facilitate parents to make healthier choices.
The call follows new research by Action on Sugar and Action on Salt in association with Children’s Food Campaign, that reveals that half (51%) of over 500 food and drink products with cartoon characters on pack are unnecessarily high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.
Over a third of the products surveyed that use licensed characters sport a red label for either fat, saturated fat, sugars and/or salt. The worst offenders were products with Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig imagery, with 57% and 50% respectively being high in fat, salt and/or sugar.
“If marketing on children’s packaging were to follow the same advertising codes as set by the Committee for Advertising Practices for broadcast advertising, half would fail the eligibility criteria and therefore would not be allowed to be advertised to audiences under the age of 16,” Action on Sugar said in a press release.
It’s shocking that companies are exploiting the health of our children by using cartoon characters on their high-sugar food and drink products, particularly on chocolates and sweets, which are already hard to resist for children … It is time for regulation to curtail the industry’s unhealthy habits.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Kawther Hashem, a registered nutritionist and campaign lead at Action on Sugar, said: “It’s shocking that companies are exploiting the health of our children by using cartoon characters on their high-sugar food and drink products, particularly on chocolates and sweets, which are already hard to resist for children. Do we really need to entice children to want these products more and pester their parents to buy them? It is time for regulation to curtail the industry’s unhealthy habits.”
In addition, the survey found that, worryingly, the majority of these child-oriented foods did not even have traffic light nutrition labelling, making it hard for consumers to easily work out the health credentials. Therefore, Action on Salt and Action on Sugar are also calling for mandatory traffic light labels on front of pack.
“Parents want to make healthy choices for their children, but companies are not making this easy for them,” added Sonia Pombo, campaign lead at Action on Salt. “The food industry has a moral duty to stop putting profits first and sell their products responsibly. There is plenty of opportunity for companies to either reformulate and make their products healthier or make their already healthier products more appealing to children. Until then, the Government must intervene and ensure all food and drink manufacturers at least display traffic light labelling so parents can see, at a glance, what is in the food.”