Supermarket foods marketed to children contain more than 60 percent more sugar and are less nutritious than adult snacks, a study warns.
Researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, found that snacks with child-friendly packaging, such as cartoon characters and multicolored ones, contain an average of 63 percent more sugar, the equivalent of one and a half teaspoons.
They also contain less protein, fiber, calcium and iron – nutrients that are important for health and development.
“Heavily processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat are relentlessly marketed to children in the US,” Dr. Natasha Agbai, a pediatrician in San Francisco. Medical news today.
More than one in five American children and teens is obese. They are more likely to remain overweight for the rest of their lives, putting them at risk for a host of health problems.
Lucky Charms cereals have kid-friendly characters and colors and contain about 6 ounces of sugar per box. Shredded wheat, marketed more towards adults, contains 4.8 g of sugar per box. Child-friendly Chips Ahoy! Sour candy cookies contain 99 g of sugar per pack, while Tate’s Bake Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies contain 84 g of sugar per pack. Breyers ice cream is aimed more at adults and contains 57 g of sugar per container. Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies Ice Cream is plastered with kid-friendly characters and delivers 65g of sugar per container
The Food and Drug Administration approved Wegovy to try to fight the obesity epidemic, but was criticized for not addressing the root problem by encouraging healthier lifestyles.
According to the Canadian study of nearly 6,000 items, products with child-friendly packaging contain an average of 14.7 g of total sugars compared to 9 g in non-child-friendly packaging – 63 percent more.
Approximately 5,850 child-relevant packaged food items were reviewed from the Food Label Information Program database.
Researchers looked at the foods they considered top priority for child-friendly marketing analyses, including cakes, cereal bars, cereals, cookies and pudding.
The categories with the highest percentage of products with child-friendly marketing on their packaging were toasters, cereals and crackers.
Candy, ice cream, cookies, meals and juice also had a high prevalence of child-friendly packaging.
All products were rated below the nutritional thresholds proposed by Health Canada as part of an upcoming bill.
The thresholds for sodium, total sugars and saturated fat are about five percent of the daily value for each.
According to the proposal, a product exceeding one or more of the nutritional value thresholds should not be marketed to children.
They found that 98 percent of child-safe packaging exceeded Health Canada’s proposed thresholds, compared to 94 percent of non-child-safe packaging.
The child-friendly packaging was also lower in all other measured ‘positive’ nutrients.
Techniques such as the use of characters, promotions, games, toys and child-appealing graphics such as unusual colors and shapes are often displayed on food packaging.
Of products with child-friendly packaging, 79.6 percent exceeded the sugar threshold, 42.2 percent exceeded the sodium threshold and 27.2 percent exceeded the saturated fat threshold.
Of products with non-child-friendly packaging, 53.6 percent exceeded the sugar threshold, 54.0 percent exceeded the sodium threshold and 32.4 percent exceeded the saturated fat threshold.
The researchers found that in the cereal category there was no difference in energy, sodium or saturated fats between products with child-friendly and non-child-friendly packaging.
However, cereals with child-friendly packaging had significantly higher levels of total sugars and free sugars and lower protein contents than cereals with non-child-friendly packaging.
Cereals marketed more vigorously were also more likely to have higher total and free sugars.
The research has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
A Pew Research study found that Americans are now eating 23 percent more calories than in previous decades.
This is combined with a more sedentary lifestyle that many live. Children now reach the recommended daily amount of one hour of physical activity less often than in previous years.
The pandemic has likely exacerbated these problems. Children who stayed home from school less often went outside to play where they would exercise more.
They were also more likely to snack throughout the day, adding calories that they previously wouldn’t have in a more structured school environment.
While obese children still have time to lose weight and eventually lead a healthy life, it does lead them to more health problems later on.
Many obese children are diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, the former being a lifelong condition that must be managed daily in order to live a healthy life.
They are also more likely to remain obese for the rest of their lives, leading to later health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.