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"Healthy" Foods Marketed At Children Are Actually Higher in Fat, Sugar and Salt

Update Date: May 07, 2013 03:50 PM EDT

Foods being advertised to children in UK supermarkets are less healthy than those marketed to the general population, according to British researchers.

Researchers said the latest findings highlight the need for more guidelines in regulating food marketed to children.

With the growing rates of childhood obesity across Europe, there has been a lot of attention on how government can reduce the advertising of foods with high fat, sugar and/or salt levels, directly to children.

While most of the attention has been directed on snack foods like candy, chips and sodas, researchers found that "healthy" foods marketed to children, like yogurts, cereal bars and ready meals, also contained higher levels of fat, sugar and salt compared to other products marketed to the general population.

"Consumers may think that foods marketed for children, using cartoon characters and promoted for lunchboxes might be healthier options than the equivalent foods marketed more for adults," Dr. Kirsten Rennie, from the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Lifespan and Chronic Illness Research, said in a news release.

"In fact we found that it was the opposite. Foods like yoghurts and cereal bars often had substantially more fat and sugar per 100g than similar adult-version products. This is very worrying and does not help consumers' confidence in choosing appropriate healthy foods for their children," Rennie added.

For the study, researchers collected nutritional data on yogurts, cereal bars and ready made meals from seven major UK supermarkets and categorized them as either children's or non-children's products based on the characteristic, promotional nature or information of the product packaging. Researchers then compared fat, sugar and salt content per 100g and per recommended portion size for each product in the study.

Researchers said the latest findings provide new evidence what will help parents become aware that choosing foods marketed to children ma not be the healthiest option.  Researchers said food manufacturers should also look at their child-oriented products and think about how they can improve them.

The findings are published in the journal Public Health Nutrition

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