Health fears grow for junk food generation

by VICTORIA FLETCHER, Evening Standard

THE FULL scale of the amount of junk food eaten by children is revealed today.

More than 60 per cent regularly eat crisps after school, with only one in four snacking on healthy food such as fruit. According to research, 42 per cent of children say they regularly eat biscuits as a snack, while 37 per cent cite chocolate as their most frequent treat.

Analysts believe the problem is set to get even worse with snack food sales predicted to rise by more than 20 per cent in the next four years.

"The way these foods are marketed and the increasing amount of money children have to spend means this trend will continue, despite increased warnings over health,î said James McCoy, a consumer goods expert from research group Mintel, which published the report.

Kath Dalmeny from the Food Commission, a consumer food watchdog, said advertisers were targeting children more than ever.

She said: "It is very cynical but absolutely true that these junk food companies target children. And, because children decide what they buy, parents have little control.

"Children have more pocket money now and TV advertising means many are encouraged to buy unhealthy foods. In shops, many snacks are placed at children's eye height to encourage them to buy.î As the Government tries to combat obesity through Britain's schools, this latest study emphasises the extent of the problem it faces.

The Prime Minister has admitted, in a leaked letter to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, that attempts to increase fitness had not done enough to encourage more people to take up sport.

Mr Blair wants a more " interventionistî approach that pushes people into exercising. No10 is reportedly convinced it must act decisively to stop rising obesity among children and young adults.

Statistics released last week show that one in five 15-year-olds is now obese. Health officials predict rates of heart disease and diabetes will soar in the coming years as a result. Snacks marketed to children - such as Monster Munch and Milky Bars - are now worth £424million a year. Most shops offer a vast range of such foods near the checkout to encourage both adults and children to make purchases on impulse.

Advertisers are aware that children have pocket money of up to £6.50 a week to spend on snacks and sweets, and there is evidence that the majority of adverts shown during children's television programmes are for foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

The recommended daily salt intake for adults is five grammes but that limit can be exceeded by eating just one large chocolate bar. Sugar makes up 16 per cent and saturated fat 14 per cent of British children's daily diet. The recommended proportions for both sugar and saturated fats are 10 per cent of total calorie intake.

Mintel's report names companies including Walkers and confectioner Haribo as targeting children. Walkers, which was recently criticised by parents' groups for using former soccer star Gary Lineker to promote its crisps, has introduced a "Txt2winî competition on its packs, which includes prizes of free text messaging - a move some claim is aimed at children.

Last year Haribo re-launched its Football Mix sweets to coincide with the football World Cup in a bid to grab the attention of both young and old consumers.

Walkers, however, rejected accusations that it is damaging children's health. "We support the encouragement of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle,î said a company spokeswoman. "Contrary to some beliefs, savoury snacks are a valuable source of nutrients and energy for active children and adults, and can be enjoyed within a sensible, balanced diet.î

Companies that target children in their advertising are aware of the falling birthrate in Britain - and the damage it could do to their business. The report suggests this will " reinforce the need for manufacturers to encourage a higher spend per child if they are to maintain a healthy market in the long termî.

Editorial Comment: Page 11

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