Washington, July 15 : A new study has revealed that 89 percent of children's food products lack proper nutrition, with 62 percent of them still making health claims on the packaging.
A detailed study was made of 367 products, and it was discovered that nine out of ten regular food items aimed specifically at children have a poor nutritional content, because of the high levels of sugar, fat or sodium.
It was further found that sugar was the main contributor of calories in 70 percent of the products, which specifically excluded confectionery, soft drinks and bakery items.
Every one in five (23 per cent) had high fat levels and 17 per cent had high sodium levels, but despite all this, 62 percent of the foods with poor nutritional quality (PNQ) make positive claims about their nutritional value on the front of the packet.
"Children's foods can now be found in virtually every section of the supermarket and are available for every eating experience," says Professor Charlene Elliott from the University of Calgary, Canada, and a Trustee of the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition.
"Parents may have questions about which packaged foods are good for their children. Yet certain nutritional claims may add to the confusion, as they can mislead people into thinking the whole product is nutritious," Elliott added.
When Professor Elliott and her colleagues evaluated 367 products and their nutritional value, it was found that only 11 percent of them provided good nutritional value in line with the criteria laid down by the US-based Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit agency that received the Food and Drug Administration's highest honour in 2007.
According to the CSPI nutritional standards, healthy food should not derive more than 35 per cent of its calories from fat (excluding nuts and seed and nut butters) and should have no more than 35 per cent added sugar by weight.
They also provide guidance on sodium levels, ranging from 230mg per portion for snacks through to 770mg per portion for pre-prepared meals.
"We included food products and packaging that were presented in such a way that children were the clear target audience," explains Professor Elliott, whose research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
"They included products that promoted fun and play, had a cartoon image on the front of the box or were linked to children's films, TV programmes and merchandise," she said.
Each product was subjected to a 36-point analysis that included the nutritional content and how the packaging was designed to appeal to children and their parents.
"While caregivers are likely to purchase products that they hope their children will like, it clearly can result in a less nutritious diet than they may realise. Having a healthy diet is especially important given the current rates of childhood obesity," stated Professor Elliott.
"If a parent sees a product that makes specific nutritional claims, they may assume that the whole product is nutritious and our study has shown that that is definitely not true in the vast majority of cases.
"Using cartoon characters engaged in sport can also create the illusion of a healthy product," she concluded.
The find has been published in the July issue of the UK-based journal Obesity Reviews.