The study, helmed by scientists at Flinders University with the South Australia Department of Health, was conducted to investigate marketing techniques used on the packaging of child-oriented products sold at supermarkets.
According to the study’s findings, 157 discrete products were marketed to children via product packaging; of which 75.2% represented non-core foods, being high in fat or sugar.
Additionally, more than sixteen unique marketing techniques were used to promote child-oriented food products.
Kaye Mehta, senior lecturer for Nutrition & Dietetics at Flinders’ School of Medicine, and member of the research team, told FoodNavigator-Asia that all the marketing techniques on child-oriented products are specifically designed to appeal to children.
“The finding of claims about nutrition and health on 56% of unhealthy and non-core products will contribute to confusion among child and adult consumers alike,” she added.
In addition, the study found that claims about health and nutrition were found on 55.5% of non-core foods and called for claims on non-core foods to be paid attention to urgently owing to their potential to mislead and confuse child and adult consumers in Australia.
Weighing in on the ongoing health claims debate in Australia, Mehta pointed out that the sector’s stakeholders have not been able to settle on specific regulations covering health claims.
“This study found that while the nutrition claims were not incorrect they were misleading because they only promoted selective positive nutritional attributes of products and failed to disclose poor nutritional aspects of products,” she said.
For example, said Mehta, sweetened breakfast cereal promoting fortification with vitamins and minerals and failing to disclose high sugar content.
“This kind of marketing should be restricted so that parents who are primary purchasers of child-oriented products are not misled into thinking these products are healthy,” she said.
According to Mehta, other unpublished research has found parents do rely on nutrition claims on food products to assist their consumer choices and children used these nutrition claims to persuade their parents to purchase products they desired.
On the food industry’s claims it has turned the corner, Mehta said that industry self-regulation of TV advertising is positive to a degree.
“Unhealthy food advertising has reduced on children’s programs but Australian children watch peak viewing time [not classified as children’s programs] in far greater numbers and advertising has not decreased in these programs,” she said.