Almost all cereals marketed at children still contain high or medium levels of sugar, campaigners have warned.
A survey of 126 breakfast cereals with packaging featuring child-friendly images such as cartoons or bright colours found 92% contain high or medium amounts of sugar, up from 91% last year, according to research by Action on Sugar and Action on Salt as part of the Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report.
Almost half of them (43%) contained chocolate, leading to campaign group Action on Sugar calling for them to be removed from the breakfast cereal aisle and placed in the confectionery aisle instead.
Researchers at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, based at Queen Mary University of London, said progress to reformulate the products in line with Government guidance had “disappointingly stagnated”.
Both Action on Sugar and Action on Salt are also urging all cereal manufacturers to commit to removing child-friendly images from the packaging of unhealthy products in a bid to tackle pester-power to improve health.
Although the previous Broken Plate report found an improvement in the nutritional profile of breakfast cereals, the new 2021 data shows no change in saturated fat, salt or fibre content.
The only apparent improvement can be seen in sugar content, which only reduced slightly from 18.4g/100g in 2020 to 18.0g/100g in 2021.
Nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar, said: “The use of child-friendly packaging just makes it hard for parents to make a healthier choice, when companies should be making it easier.
“Whilst we are expecting to see restrictions on online and television advertising for foods high in fat, salt, and sugar, this does not yet apply to the packaging that may appeal to children, which is a huge concern. For too long, less healthy food has been in the spotlight which is not only unethical but also scandalous. Food businesses should only have child-friendly packaging on their healthier foods and drinks to give them a starring role in children’s diets.”
Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor said: “While it is really encouraging to see so many retailers act to remove cartoon characters from children’s cereals, the fact that this year 92% of cereals marketed towards children contain high or medium levels of sugar shows that much more work remains to be done.
“Progress is simply not happening quickly enough, and it’s concerning to see that the fibre content of these cereals remains low. Bold action will be required from both Government and businesses if we are to safeguard the future health of our children – but is by no means impossible.”