Majority of children's cereals 'contain high or medium levels of sugar'

What’s your child eating for breakfast?

If cereal is on the menu, likely a lot of sugar.

Almost all cereals marketed at children contain high or medium levels of sugar, a new survey of 126 breakfast cereals has revealed.

Campaigners from Action On Sugar and Action On Salt found that 92% of cereals with packaging featuring child-friendly images (think bright colours and cartoon characters) contain high or medium amounts of sugar.

That’s up 1% from last year, despite major manufacturers vowing to prioritise the health content of their products.

The Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report found that almost half (43%) of these kids’ cereals contained chocolate.

The Malt-O-Meal Marshmallow Mateys were found to be one of the highest in sugar, containing 12g per bowl – the equivalent of eating five and a half biscuits for breakfast.

This has led Action On Sugar to call for these products to be removed from the breakfast cereal aisle and placed with other confectionery instead, to highlight that these dishes are more of a ‘treat’ than a regular breakfast option.

It’s not just the sugar content that’s causing concern.

There’s quite a bit of salt in these cereals, too. Around 60% of the products tested were medium or high in salt.

And the nutritional benefits of the items aren’t living up to expectations either – 45% of the cereals were low in fibre – up from 38% in 2020.

Campaigners are now urging all cereal manufacturers to commit to removing child-friendly images from the packaging of unhealthy products in a bid to tackle pester-power to improve health.

This comes after supermarkets such as Lidl and Asda vowed to remove cartoon characters from their own-brand cereal packaging.

Nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar, said: ‘The use of child-friendly packaging just makes it hard for parents to make a healthier choice, when companies should be making it easier.

‘Whilst we are expecting to see restrictions on online and television advertising for foods high in fat, salt, and sugar, this does not yet apply to the packaging that may appeal to children, which is a huge concern.

‘For too long, less healthy food has been in the spotlight which is not only unethical but also scandalous.

‘Food businesses should only have child-friendly packaging on their healthier foods and drinks to give them a starring role in children’s diets.’

Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor added: ‘While it is really encouraging to see so many retailers act to remove cartoon characters from children’s cereals, the fact that this year 92% of cereals marketed towards children contain high or medium levels of sugar shows that much more work remains to be done.

‘Progress is simply not happening quickly enough, and it’s concerning to see that the fibre content of these cereals remains low.

‘Bold action will be required from both Government and businesses if we are to safeguard the future health of our children – but is by no means impossible.’

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