Calls to ban cereal and yoghurt manufacturers from putting cartoon characters on the side of boxes were rejected today. Influential experts want firms to adopt plain packaging on sugar-laden cereals and yoghurts.
Products packed with up to four teaspoons of sugar are designed to attract children through the use of characters, animations and bright colours, obesity campaigners say.
Some companies even use superheroes such as Spider-Man and Disney favourites like Stitch to lure children.
But health minister Will Quince branded Action on Sugar’s proposal a ‘nanny-state intervention’ and said plain packaging would be a ‘step too far’.
A MailOnline audit of more than 200 cereals sold in supermarkets revealed Kellogg’s Frosties Cereal (37g) and Crunchy Nut (35g) contain more sugar than half a packet of ‘choc chip’ Maryland cookies (31g)
He told Times Radio: ‘It’s one of those things where it should be in moderation. Yes, I do let my children have those cereals, but not every day.
‘And actually what we need to do, and I think the companies that manufacture these products need to do, is help educate parents as to what is actually in their products and ensure that it is a treat and it is not a daily product they should be consuming.
‘But that very much should be for the parent to make that decision.’
Mr Quince added: ‘I’m not in favour of those kinds of nanny state interventions because as a parent, it’s my responsibility to educate my child as to what is and isn’t appropriate for daily consumption and as a treat.
‘I like Krave cereal as much as the next person… it’s very nice, but would I have it every day? No, because I know the implications of that. I want to educate my children about that.
‘So what it means is we need to empower people to make healthier life choices.
‘And that means putting information like calories and sugar content and salt content on the front and centre of packets that is already there. But if we need to go further, we can look at that but I think plain packaging is certainly a step too far.’
Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateys sold at Sainsbury’s contains 41g per 100g — more than two Lotus Biscoff Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Kellogg’s Frosties Cereal has 37g of sugar making it the second most sugary cereal in our audit
Research by Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London, compared cereals and yogurts offered by different companies in the UK.
It found 47 per cent of cereals and 65 per cent of yogurts contained a third of the recommended daily maximum sugar intake for a four to six-year-old, excluding the milk.
Health officials advise 4 to 6-year-olds consume no more than 19g of added sugar per day, equivalent to 5 teaspoons. These are sugars added to food or drink, rather than those that occur naturally.
However, the Lidl Crownfield Choco Hazelnut Pillows cereal contained 28.5g sugars per 100g, equal to 8.6g of sugar or 2 teaspoons per serving.
What should a balanced diet look like?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count;
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain;
- 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on;
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options;
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily);
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts;
- Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day;
- Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day.
A MailOnline audit of more than 200 cereals sold in supermarkets revealed that the worst offender had even more than that, though.
Malt O Meal Marshmallow Mateys sold at Sainsbury’s contains 41g per 100g — more than two Lotus Biscoff Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
For comparison, a McDonald’s small chocolate milkshake has 27g.
Kellogg’s Frosties Cereal (37g) and Crunchy Nut (35g) contain more sugar than half a packet of ‘choc chip’ Maryland cookies (31g).
Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Salted Caramel (32g) and Crunchy Nut Chocolate Clusters (30g) are the next most sugary cereals.
Adding 125ml of whole milk can add, on average, around 7g of sugar. Milk does not count as an added sugar.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: ‘Obesity is estimated to cost the UK £58billion each year, having a huge impact on economic productivity and the NHS.
‘Drastic changes are needed to the food system and that includes responsible marketing of food and drink, especially to children.’
In terms of yoghurts, Action on Sugar’s analysis found Nestlé Smarties Vanilla had 14.6g of sugars per 100g, equal to 4 teaspoons sugar per serving.
Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar, said: ‘It’s ludicrous that whilst breakfast cereals and yoghurts celebrate the largest reductions in sugars during the Sugar Reduction Programme, those same products with child-appealing packaging still have excessive amounts of sugars, unsuitable for regular intake by children.
‘Given the soaring numbers of under-18s suffering weight-related health problems and tooth decay being the leading cause of child hospitalisation, now is the time for companies to be forced to remove child-appealing packaging from products that are misleading parents and making our children unhealthy and sick.’
Action on Sugar wants firms to remove cartoon characters, animations and vibrant colours from food graded as high or medium for sugar, salt or saturated fat, based on the Department for Health’s nutrition guidelines.
Christopher Snowdon, of the Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank, told MailOnline: ‘The government is right to give this policy the thumbs down. Something similar was tried in Chile a few years ago without success.
‘We have heard quite enough from Action on Sugar for one lifetime. None of their anti-obesity policies have worked anywhere.’
A Kellogg’s spokesperson said: ‘We offer a broad range of cereals to meet our shoppers’ needs, whether that’s an indulgent cereal for a treat or a family breakfast cereal that’s lower in sugar. We understand we have a role to help people make healthier choices. That’s why since 2011, we’ve reduced sugar across our cereals by 18% and salt by 23%.
‘For those wanting a lower sugar option, many of our cereals, including Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Coco Pops and Special K Original are classed as non-high in fat, salt and sugar (non-HFSS) using the government’s own nutrition standards. Four out of our five top-selling cereals are non-HFSS.’
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: ‘We offer a range of branded and own brand breakfast cereal products in our stores to offer our customers choice.
‘This cereal is a branded item, which is imported as part of our world food range and found in the American section of some of our stores.’
MailOnline’s analysis was based on nutritional information taken from websites in August 2023.