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Action on Sugar

Breakfast Cereals

Call for ALL Cereal Manufacturers to Remove Child Friendly Images from Less Healthy Products, As Progress in Salt & Sugar Reduction Stagnates

  • 92% of cereals marketed towards children still contain high or medium levels of sugar, with only two cereals ticking all the boxes for a healthy choice
  • Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateys contains 12g of sugar per serve – equivalent to eating 5 ½ digestive biscuits[1]
  • More than one in two cereals are at least medium in salt, with Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateyscontaining 0.5g per serve – equivalent to eating 1 ½ bags of ready salted crisps[2]
  • With nearly half of all child friendly cereals containing chocolate, Action on Sugar calls for the immediate removal of these sugary products from the breakfast cereal aisle

Despite a concerted effort by some food manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of breakfast cereals with child friendly packaging, progress to reformulate these products in line with government guidance has disappointingly stagnated. That’s according to new research carried out by researchers at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt based at Queen Mary University of London.[3]

New data analysis featured in The Food Foundation’s NEW ‘Broken Plate’ 2021 Report (published today 7th July)[4], which surveyed 126 breakfast cereals with child friendly packaging (such as cartoons and bright colours)[5] has revealed:

  • 92% were still high or medium[6] in sugar in 2021 (compared to 91% in 2020 and 97% in 2019[7]) – with one of the worst offender’s being Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateys containing 12g of sugar per serve
  • 60% were medium or high in salt in 2021 (compared to 59% in 2020 and 86% in 2019). The worst offender being Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateys containing 0.5g of salt per serve
  • 45% were low in fibre[8] in 2021 (compared to 38% in 2020 and 48% in 2019). The lowest fibre cereal beingMorrisons Free From Honey Loops with 0.3g of fibre per serve
  • Nearly half (43%) were chocolate-flavoured breakfast cereals, despite being targeted toward children

Read the Broken Plate report in more detail by visiting the Food Foundation's website

Read the 2021 Breakfast Cereals with packaging that may appeal to children report [PDF 1,423KB]

View the 2021 Breakfast cereals with packaging that may appeal to children data [PDF 294KB]

View the Media Coverage here

Breakfast cereals are often seen as a healthy choice (‘health halo’), leading parents to believe even chocolate-flavoured cereals are suitable for a child’s daily breakfast. With certain child friendly cereals high in sugar and low in fibre and nearly half (46%) containing chocolate, Action on Sugar is calling for these products to be removed from the breakfast cereal aisle and placed in the snacks and confectionary aisle.

Furthermore, with only two breakfast cereals (out of a total of 126) with child friendly packaging ticking all the boxes for a healthy choice (i.e. low in fat, salt and sugar, and high in fibre), both Action on Sugar and Action on Salt are also 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 child health.

Whilst several retailers have committed to removing cartoon characters from their packaging[9], in many cases and as seen in this new Report, this has been replaced with packaging still appealing to children and with similar and unnecessary levels of sugar.

Although the previous Broken Plate Report (published in 2020) found an improvement in the nutritional profile of breakfast cereals, the new 2021 data shows that progress has since stagnated, with no change in saturated fat, salt or fibre content. The only apparent improvement can be seen in sugar content, which only reduced slightly from 18.4g/100g in 2020 to 18.0g/100g in 2021[10].

Breakfast cereals with the least progress in reformulation between 2020 and 2021

* In response to the report, Aldi have clarified there has been no recipe alteration for this cereal; the change in sugar content on packaging labels is due to testing variance.

 Breakfast cereals surveyed with the biggest progress in reformulation between 2020 and 2021

Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager at Action on Salt says, “It’s important that parents can buy foods for their children which they enjoy and keeps them healthy rather than being misled. Breakfast cereals can be a nutritious choice, providing a source of key nutrients to the diet but they can also contain high levels of sugar, salt, and not enough fibre. This can significantly contribute to raised blood pressure and increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Whilst some responsible food manufacturers are committed to salt and sugar reduction, many have not gone far enough and it is time they catch up to level the playing field, for the sake of our children.”

Registered Nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar says, “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.”

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt says, “Our new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care must confront the food companies promoting and profiting from unhealthy processed food which, as we know, can lead to obesity and the worse outcomes from Covid-19. With ten children out of every class of thirty leaving primary school with overweight or obesity, and the overall cost of obesity to wider society estimated at £27 billion[11], food companies should be forced to provide healthier choices.  Surely Mr Javid believes every child has the right to grow up healthy?”

Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director of the Food Foundation says, 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.”

ENDS

National PR – David Clarke:  M: 07773 225516

Website www.actiononsalt.org.uk / www.actiononsugar.org

Notes to editors:

About Action on Sugar

Action on Sugar is a group of experts concerned with sugar and obesity and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high calorie diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar and fat in processed foods to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.  

About Action on Salt

Action on Salt is a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, supported by 22 expert scientific members. Action on Salt is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.

[1] A McVitie’s digestive biscuit contains 2.2g sugar https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/254922666

[2] Walkers Ready Salted crisps contain 0.34g salt per 25g bag https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/254926800

[3] Survey details: The survey, conducted between April and May 2021, included the collection of sugar, salt and fibre data per 100g and per serve for breakfast cereals that may appeal to children. Data was collected online via retailer websites and in store (Aldi, ASDA, Lidl, Ocado (which covers Marks & Spencer’s), Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Co-operative and Waitrose). All products mentioned in this release have been purchased and figures have been verified.

[4] The Food Foundation. The Broken Plate 2021: The State of the Nation’s Food System. Published 7th July 2021

[5] The collected breakfast cereals data underwent rigorous inclusion and exclusion criteria for what would be deemed ‘child friendly packaging’ based on previous Action on Sugar and Action on Salt surveys and other literature.

Inclusion criteria of the breakfast cereals survey

[6] Criteria for high, medium and low for each nutrient is based on the Department of Health’s ‘Guide to creating a front of pack nutrition label for pre-packed products sold through retail outlets’ https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/fop-guidance_0.pdf

[7] The Broken Plate 2020, which provides details of the nutritional content of cereals surveyed in 2019 and 2020 - http://www.actiononsugar.org/media/actiononsugar/news-centre/surveys-/2020/FF-Broken-Plate-2020-DIGITAL-FULL.pdf

[8] Action on Sugar and Action on Salt created a colour-coded system for fibre, which is based on previous Broken Plate reports:

≥10g fibre per 100g received green light

≥5g and < 10g fibre per 100g received amber light

<5g fibre per 100g received red light

[9] Action on Sugar News Lidl to remove cartoon characters from cereal boxes. Published 3 January 2020.

[10] The average nutritional values of breakfast cereals with child friendly packaging from 2019-2021

Nutrient

Year

2019

2020

2021

Saturated  Fat g/100g

1.2

1.3

1.3

Sugars g/100g

21.4

18.4

18.0

Salt g/100g

0.54

0.45

0.44

Fibre g/100g

5.1

6.4

6.3

[11] Public Health England. Health matters: obesity and the food environment. Published 31 March 2017.

 

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