The use of celebrities and cartoon characters to give children the hard-sell on breakfast cereals should be banned, say health researchers.
A University of Auckland study of breakfast cereals on New Zealand supermarket shelves found more than half of cereals pitched at children were less than healthy, and most used promotional characters to attract kids.
"If you're with children in the supermarket, those kinds of products are placed at their eye level and [kids] try to get what they want - certainly those characters help," researcher Stefanie Vandevijvere said.
The study recommends the Government restrict the use of the characters - ranging from well-known cartoon figures to images of sporty teenagers - particularly on products targeted at children.
The simplest step would be to ban the use of promotional characters, but another an option could be for the Government to set sugar and sodium targets and only if the cereal came under the limit could it be marketed to children, she said.
"You might also argue that promotion of products to children is actually not really good practice altogether, so you could just say let's ban them from all the packages."
An Otago University study published in February also recommended banning junk food advertising targeted at children, including the use of promotional characters.
The Advertising Standards Authority's code for advertising food to children already restricts television adverts promoting unhealthy food during children's programmes, and provides for some other industry self-regulation, but there are no government-imposed restrictions.
The University of Auckland research rated cereals as either "healthy" or "less healthy". More than a quarter of the 247 cereals in the study were "less healthy", containing more sugar and sodium and less fibre and protein than the "healthy" ones, but 96 per cent of them made claims of health or nutrition.
"They are misleading in the sense that a product that is not really healthy can still display things like lots of vitamins and minerals in the products, which people might think makes it healthier," Vandevijvere said.
A smartphone app called FoodSwitch, allowing shoppers to scan a product and get a traffic-light reading on how healthy the product is, has been developed by the researchers, but Vandevijvere said the Government could make it easier.
Australia had adopted a voluntary health-star rating system to tell consumers how healthy a product was, and Britain had a traffic-light system, which New Zealand could model.
- The Dominion Post
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