Cartoon characters on food packaging such as Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam are fuelling Australia’s childhood obesity crisis and should be restricted, public health experts say.
Researchers at the Obesity Policy Coalition surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoon characters designed to lure children, and found 52 per cent were classified as unhealthy, based on Food Standards’ Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion.
They found 87 per cent of snack bars, 61 per cent of cheese snacks and 32 per cent of breakfast cereals featuring colourful cartoons were unhealthy, laden with fat, sugar and/or salt.
They pinpointed Nestle’s sweet and sticky “fruit” straps Roll-Ups, Streets Paddle Pop and its Lion, and Kellogg’s sugary Frosties, Coco Pops and Froot Loops breakfast cereals as some of the worst offenders.
Frosties, spruiked by Tony the Tiger, contains more than 41 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
In some cases, cartoon characters such as the Paddle Pop Lion and the Yogo Gorilla are the stars of free online games, apps and videos, strengthening the food makers’ grip on children.
The coalition’s executive manager, Jane Martin, said it was “extremely frustrating” to see food companies continue to hook children and create pester power using cartoons.
Twenty-seven per cent of Australian children are considered overweight or obese.
“Food companies know that children have an incredible amount of power over what their parents buy, and that’s why Chile, a country that has been very progressive in obesity prevention, has restricted the use of cartoons on unhealthy food packaging,” she said.
“It’s a shame that this powerful marketing tactic is not being used to sell more healthy products instead.”
It will take decades to see if Chile’s new food labelling laws have an impact on its high obesity rates.
Ms Martin said industry self-regulation was not working because it didn’t cover promotions on food packaging, and regardless, companies were breaking their own rules.
– Esther Han