There is substantial evidence that junk food advertising influences children’s food preferences and consumption, and is likely to contribute to overweight and obesity. In Australia, self-regulated industry codes on restricting junk food marketing to children, do not cover front of pack promotions. This study aimed to explore, the volume of animated characters likely to be appealing to children, on the front of food packaging of products aimed at children. It also aimed to assess how likely the characters were to be on unhealthy foods and on foods high in sugar.
An instore supermarket survey examined the presence of animated characters on cereal, snack bar, dairy snack and ice-cream products aimed at children. This was determined according to the serving size, appeal and nature of the product. These products were assessed for ‘healthiness’ using the FSANZ Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC) (not meeting the criterion classed as ‘unhealthy’) and for sugar content (>15% sugar classed as ‘high’).
In total 389 products included were identified as being aimed at children. 158 of these carried animated characters. Half of the foods carrying animated characters (50%) were classed as ‘unhealthy’ and 64% were high in sugar. Within the food categories 19% of dairy snacks, 87% of snack bars, 32% of cereals and 88% of ice-creams carrying animated characters were 'unhealthy'. While 17% of dairy snacks, 100% snack bars, 78% cereals and 88% ice-creams with animated characters were high in sugar.
The high numbers of unhealthy and high sugar products identified in this study, that carry animated characters that are appealing to children, highlights a significant gap around regulation of marketing to children on front of pack which should be closed.