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Parents misled by food labels

[Posted: Mon 21/12/2009 by Olivia Fens]

Nine out of 10 parents misunderstand nutritional information on food aimed at children, a new survey has found.

According to survey, most parents believe that claims such as ‘free from artificial colours and preservatives’ and ‘a source of calcium, iron and six vitamins’ means that a product is healthy.

However, the study by the British Heart Foundation, which involved almost 1,500 parents with children aged 15 or under, found that many of these claims disguise the fact that foods targeted at children are high in fat, salt and sugar.

For example, more than three-quarters of parents surveyed believed that ‘wholegrain’ means the product is likely to be healthy. However, the BHF said that, Nestle Honey Shreddies are ‘wholegrain’ yet a 45g average size serving contains more sugar (13.6g) than a ring doughnut.

Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereals and milk bars are higher in saturated fat and sugar than the average chocolate cake; yet 63% of parents surveyed believed they were healthy because they are labelled as being a source of calcium, iron and six vitamins.

In the survey, nearly three in five parents believed that if a product was labelled as having ‘no artificial flavourings and no artificial colourings’ then these products were likely to be healthy.

However, the Natural Confectionery Company packaging states that Jelly Snakes sweets have ‘no artificial flavourings, no artificial colourings’ and are ‘natural’, yet they contain more calories gram for gram than black treacle.

The BHF said manufacturers were manipulating parents through distracting health-like claims.

“Smoke and mirror tactics means that foods targeted at children and high in fat, salt and sugar are being disguised with partial health claims suggesting they’re a healthy choice. Regularly eating these types of foods could have serious implications for kids’ future health,” the BHF said.

The Foundation added that the ‘mish mash’ of food labelling systems were only confusing shoppers about the nutritional value of what they were putting in their shopping baskets.

“It’s time for food companies to stop making excuses, support one system and ensure shoppers are given ‘at a glance’ information about the foods they’re giving their kids.”

The survey was conducted as part of the BHF’s Food4Thought campaign aimed at tackling childhood obesity.

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