Shrek, Scooby and Bob accused of selling 'unhealthy' food to kids
CONSUMER AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
POPULAR cartoon characters are being used to sell food packed with sugar, salt and fat, campaigners said yesterday.
Action Man, Bob the Builder, and Shrek are among 18 characters from TV and films on foods targeted at children.
The consumer group Which? described the endorsements as "manipulative marketing ploys" and called on licensing companies and food manufacturers to act more responsibly.
Nick Stace, of Which?, said: "Too many characters loved by children are being used to promote foods high in fat, sugar and salt, leaving their parents feeling powerless to say no."
Among the products highlighted is pasta shapes in tomato sauce from HP, which has the classic children’s character Bagpuss on the label.
Which? found one serving contained 3.75g of salt - almost double the 2g of salt a child aged one to three should consume in a whole day and more than the 3g recommended for four to six-year-olds.
The hit film The Incredibles has recently been used by the food giant Nestlé to promote its breakfast cereals. However, Which? found a packet of Nestlé Golden Nuggets contained 40 per cent sugar.
Researchers also looked at a Scooby Doo lunchbox product, made by Primula, which features the mad-cap dog on the pack. The product’s 1.75g of salt is classed as "a lot", using guidelines from the Food Standards Agency. It is also packed with 14.8g of fat and 29.7g of sugar.
Which? also highlighted Bart Simpson promoting chocolate bars and Dohnut Cookies, Shrek on a "chocolatey" breakfast cereal and Spiderman on Penguin biscuits.
Neville Rigby, the director of policy and public affairs at the International Obesity Taskforce, based in Aberdeen, said: "The food industry knows we need to change the way these products are marketed. Advertising of these products which is aimed at children should be banned altogether.
"Clearly these processed foods, many of which are very high in sugar and salt, are being associated with popular icons in order to bring them to the attention of children who are too young to make an informed choice about what they eat.
"Many of these products also lead to pester power, putting parents under pressure to buy these products."
Mr Stace cautioned: "These are not treats, these are everyday foods."
A Which? survey of 2,000 parents found 77 per cent felt the use of cartoon characters on foods high in salt, sugar and fat made it hard for them to say no to their children.
Which? fell short of calling for a ban on the licensing deals, but said the characters should only be used on healthy products.
Twentieth Century Fox, which licenses The Simpsons, said it was reviewing its policies on product endorsements. Hit Entertainment, responsible for Barney, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine, said it did not license its brands to fast-food outlets.
BBC Worldwide, which licenses The Tweenies, announced new standards in 2004 for the way characters it owns are used, in order to address concerns about the promotion of unhealthy foods.
Which? has launched a pocket-size guide to help shoppers decide if products are high in salt, sugar and fat.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said foods such as those highlighted by the report were avoided in school meals: "We are committed to improving the diet of children and ensuring the food is healthy."
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