Report calls out ‘health halos’ on HFSS products aimed at teens

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Viktoriia Hnatiuk
Image: Getty/Viktoriia Hnatiuk

Related tags Childhood obesity

Findings released by Bite Back 2030 claim to expose the powerful, deliberate and dishonest marketing tactics being employed by the food and drinks industry to encourage teenagers to eat unhealthy products in ever increasing quantities.

The group claimed one in two teens say they are influenced by health claims on products with 73% of teens believing they are eating healthily.

At a time when one in three children is at risk from being overweight or obese, Bite Back 2030 is calling on the Government to introduce regulation to end the use of health and nutrition claims on products high in either (saturated) fat, salt or sugar; along with consistent portion sizing and reformulation across categories.

The group’s report explored the eating habits of a 1,000, 13-18-year olds in the UK and examined the impact packaging claims have on their perception of ‘health’. It reveals just how difficult brands are making it for young people to understand exactly what it is they are eating.

In partnership with researchers from Livity and Action on Sugar, Bite Back 2030 assessed what teens eat in a ‘typical’ day and identified the true nutritional content of over 500 ‘health halo’ food and drink products. They then analysed how healthy young people perceive these products to be and why.

The results revealed half of respondents agreed that ‘so called’ health and nutrition messaging on ads, packaging and menus make them more likely to purchase a product.

The research further identified that over half (57%) of all products surveyed are HFSS and would receive a red colour-coded nutritional information label; that nearly two-thirds (62%) of all drink products were ‘dangerously’ high in sugar; and less than 6% of products are meeting guidance on free sugar.

For example, the group said almost 9 in 10 young people think smoothies are healthy, but 76% of juices and smoothies would receive a red traffic light label and a typical smoothie is 83% of a teen’s or adult’s daily allowance of free sugars.   

Jacob Rosenbeg (aged 17) a campaigner for Bite Back said: “It should be easy for all of us to eat healthily; it isn't. Using health claims is just another example of how the system is rigged against us. It seems crazy that regulators have the power to dictate what information MUST be listed on packaging, but they don't control how foods are branded and promoted. Companies are spending billions on brilliant and deliberately misleading marketing that promotes unhealthy foods to young people. We can and must change that, and protect the health and futures of millions of children. We want companies to step up and be honest with us about the food we eat.”

Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Salt, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, added: “It is morally indefensible for manufacturers to mislead shoppers into buying and eating food that looks healthy on the outside of the packet, when it isn’t healthy on the inside. We are in an epidemic of childhood obesity, and we support Bite Back 2030’s call that this practice must end now.”

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