Having studied 186 packaged foods which featured cartoons or other characters designed to attract children, the Obesity Policy Coalition assessed that 52% were classified as unhealthy by a metric devised by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the food regulator.
This was highest among children’s ice creams, of which 88% were deemed to be unhealthy, followed by 87% of snack bars aimed at kids.
At the other end of the scale, 10 out of 53 children’s dairy snacks—or 19% of products surveyed—were unhealthy.
OPC executive manager Jane Martin expressed shock at seeing so many manufacturers targeting children in this way with unhealthy food, at a time when 27% of Australian kids are overweight or obese.
“It’s extremely frustrating to see cartoons and animations being used to lure children and create pester power to push parents into buying unhealthy products for kids,” Martin said.
“Children are naturally drawn to fun, colourful characters on foods in the supermarket, and food companies are fully aware of this. They know that children have an incredible amount of power over what their parents buy.”
Among the products which used cartoons to appeal to children were Kellogg’s Frosties, which OPC found to contain 41% sugar, and Kraft Cheestik Sticks, which contained 17.5g of saturated fat per 100g.
Food advertising in Australia is largely self-regulated, and so leaves food and advertising industries to make their own rules. Current industry-led regulations do not cover food packaging, Martin suggested.
“In Australia, the use of cartoons and characters on food and drink packaging is allowed, even under weak self-regulation, providing an unfettered marketing tool for food advertisers to target children,” she said.
“We want food manufacturers to stop using animations to promote junk food in any way to kids and for the federal government to extend and strengthen existing junk food marketing regulations.”
Kellogg’s, which markets its products with well-known characters including Coco the Monkey and Tony the Tiger, have resisted the call the change.
“[They] have been around for many years and are part of our heritage. Tony is the eldest, and will be turning 67 this year. To get rid of them would be akin to asking Qantas to get rid of the Flying Kangaroo,” a Kellogg spokesperson told Food and Beverage Industry News.
“The OPC is effectively saying to parents that they have less influence on their kids than a picture of a tiger or a monkey on a box of cereal, which is hugely discrediting to what parents decide to choose or don’t choose for their kids.”