The researchers examined the nutritional content of yoghurts, ready meals and cereal bars from seven UK supermarkets, and categorised them as children’s or non-children’s products based on their promotional nature or information on the packaging.
Children’s products were identified by links with children’s media, use of characters or celebrities for marketing, lunchbox promotions and statements like ‘little’, ‘kids’ or a specified age range.
“Yoghurts, cereal bars and ready meals marketed towards children had significantly different nutritional profiles from those aimed at the general population,” the study’s authors wrote. “In most cases products marketed to children were higher in sugars, fat, saturated fat and/or sodium, with the exception of children’s ready meals, which had lower sodium content than non-children’s.”
In particular, children’s yoghurts had significantly higher levels of sugar, fat and saturated fat than those not marketed to children, although children’s yoghurts were lower in sodium. In cereal bars, saturated fat levels and sodium were significantly higher in the children’s products, while in ready meals, sugar and fat contents per 100 g were not significantly different.
However, when expressed as a percentage of energy, children’s ready meals as well as cereal bars had a significantly higher proportion of energy from sugars than the non-children’s products.
The researchers examined the products’ nutritional profiles per 100 g – and they acknowledged that per portion nutrition may be more significant, considering that children may tend to consume smaller portions than adults.
However, they questioned why products marketed to children were less healthy in general than those marketed to the wider public as a whole.
“Would the ideal situation not be to have similar, healthy products with differences in requirements met by varying portion size and food category rather than brand or industry-determined age bracket?” they wrote.
“The study findings suggest a need for constructive engagement with the food industry and possibly more comprehensive nutritional guidelines for the regulation of food products aimed at children and subsequent marketing of these.”
Source: Public Health Nutrition
“Marketing foods to children: a comparison of nutrient content between children’s and non-children’s products”
Authors: Amelia Lythgoe, Caireen Roberts, Angela M Madden and Kirsten L Rennie