Many 'healthy' foods aimed at children 'not as nutritious as claimed on their labels'
Many so-called 'healthy foods' for children are loaded with salt and sugar and are not as nutritious as their marketing slogans claim.
The mistaken belief that these foods are healthy could be contributing to rising rates of childhood obesity, a new study reveals today.
Researchers looked at 332 brands on sale in the UK - which would also be found on Irish supermarket shelves - and tested them for calories, fat, sugar, and salt as well as "five-a-day" claims.
The calculations showed that as many as 41pc were less healthy when measured against dietary guidelines, the 'Archives of Disease in Childhood' reported.
Cereal bars had the highest energy and saturated fat content, while cereals had the highest salt content.
Fruit snacks had the highest sugar content, averaging 48g/100g, but still made the five-a-day claim. This is likely to be confusing for parents, suggest the researchers at the School of Medicine in the University of Glasgow.
Nearly a quarter of the products, most of which were fruit-based drinks and snacks, made "no added sugars" claims. But half had concentrated juice or fruit puree as the added ingredients.
"Processed fruits are perceived as a healthy natural alternative to added sugars, but because of the breakdown of the cellular structure they potentially have the same negative effect on weight gain as other forms of sugar, which is why they have recently been classified as free sugars in the UK," write the researchers.
Some 41pc of products made claims about being part of the "five-a-day" fruit and vegetable intake. Most of these were fruit drinks, ready meals, and fruit snacks. Processed fruit, concentrated fruit juice, or purée appeared as ingredients in nearly half of these products.
But despite most of them claiming to contain one portion of fruit or vegetables, three out of four didn't contain the recommended 80g portion. Half of the products making "five-a-day" claims didn't specify whether these were adult or child portions.
The serving size for most fruit-based drinks exceeded the recommended 150ml limit for fruit juice, yet the fruit and vegetable portions for most products were below the recommended portion size.
The researchers claim the findings indicate that "health and nutrition claims used on product packaging are currently confusing".
"Pre-packed foods targeted to children can be consumed as part of a 'balanced and healthy' diet, yet their health and nutrition claims remain questionable," the authors said. "Given the current rising rates of childhood obesity, the consumption of less healthy foods may have long-term negative implications on child health."
www.safefood.eu provides labelling advice.