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Cartoon characters promote less healthy foods

Industry favourites are still being used to push k

Kraft Dairylea Dunkers

Some of advertising’s best-known cartoon creations – including Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle and Pop – are failing to promote healthy food for kids, new Which? research reveals today.

Out of 19 children’s food company cartoon favourites, not a single character promoted only healthier products as defined by the Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling Model.

The research demonstrates the need for the industry to amend its self-regulatory CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) and BCAP (Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice) codes and use these much-loved characters to promote foods that are lower in fat, salt and sugar.

Weak regulation

Despite being revised in April 2007, the protection offered to children by the CAP and BCAP code remains weak. At the moment these industry codes restrict the use of third party licensed characters like Shrek for younger children, but do nothing to stop company-owned characters like Tony the Tiger and do not cover all types of promotions, including packaging.

The ‘Cartoon League Table’ was compiled after two thirds (66%) of people surveyed told Which? they think food companies should not be allowed to use cartoon characters to promote less healthy foods to children.

Clare Corbett, Which? food campaigner, said: ‘Cartoons are great fun for kids. We definitely don’t want to see the end of popular characters like Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster, but we do want to see them promoting healthier products. Food companies must play their part in the fight against childhood obesity and diet-related disease by acting responsibly.

‘Going back to the drawing board and closing the cartoon loophole in their self-regulatory CAP and BCAP codes is a vital step in tackling this complex issue. If the industry fails to act, the Government must step in.’

Cartoon baddies

The characters that came out top for the promotion of less healthy food choices were:

  • Moo (Kraft – Dairylea) –   Kraft’s cartoon cow is present across a large spread of Dairylea packaging. While cheese products can be a rich source of calcium they are often high in saturated fat and salt. For example, Dairylea Lunchables chicken ‘n’ cheese wraps contain over a third of the maximum amount of salt a 7–10 year old child should consume in a day (Food Standard Agency guidelines).
  • Tony the Tiger (Kellogg’s – Frosties) – known for the catchphrase, ‘They’re gr-r-reat!’. This stripy character has promoted his frosted cereal for over 50 years making him a household name, but Frosties contain over a third sugar.
  • Captain Crunch (Red Mill Snack Foods – Transform-A-Snack) – promotes crisps that are high in fat and salt.

The research is part of the Which? kids’ food campaign to introduce restrictions on marketing of junk food to children through TV, internet and packaging as part of the broader the fight against childhood obesity and diet-related health problems.

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