A new report finds that the health messaging on products which attracts young people, is masking some not-so-healthy ingredients.
Our friends at Bite Back 2030, in partnership with Livity and Action on Sugar, have published a new report, Calling on food and drink companies – Don’t hide what’s inside! The research investigates the eating habits of one thousand teenagers from across the UK and examines the impact of packaging claims on their perception of ‘health’.
Bite Back 2030 looked at over 500 different food and drink products defined as being commonly consumed by teens, which featured ‘health halos’. A shocking 57% of the products were found to be high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS). In drinks alone 63% of the products surveyed contained very high levels of sugar.
These findings contrast with the perceived healthiness of the products. 90% of young people think smoothies are healthy, while a typical smoothie in a meal deal contains 83% of the daily allowance of free sugars. Similar misleading marketing was found with cereal bars and yoghurts. Meanwhile, half of participants said that marketing health messages, such as ‘no added sugar’, make them more likely to purchase a product.
All of this led to the finding that 73% of young people think their diet is healthy, despite their intake not meeting health recommendations. Young people who report having a healthy diet consume more juice, smoothies, cereal bars and yoghurts than those who report having an unhealthy diet. However, these products can be HFSS and not contain enough fibre.
The research also found that young people in higher socioeconomic groups were more likely to consume fruit and vegetables, and less likely to consume soft drinks or chips on a school day, compared with those in lower socioeconomic groups. This reiterates the inequalities of the food environment, as previous work by Bite Bite Back 2030 and others has highlighted.
Bite Back 2030 call on the food industry to do a number of things, including to: stop making healthy claims on HFSS products, remove unhealthy snacks and drinks from promotions such as meal deals, and to ensure all products display front-of-pack traffic light labelling.
The report goes on to make recommendations to the Government to:
Introduce a clear, mandatory labelling policy, to include: declarations of free sugars; traffic light labels with a review of thresholds; regulate health and nutrition claims; consistent portion sizing.
Implement mandatory targets for reformulation, including declarations of percentages of sales from less healthy and healthier products.
We believe that school food should be a consistent and non-partisan priority for government. We use our real-world experience of working in schools to strengthen our campaigns on children’s health, access to nutritious school meals and food education.