Childhood obesity in Australia: Cartoon characters on kids’ food packaging face heat; Top brands found to be unhealthy

By @ritwikroy1985 on
Various types of Kellogg's cereals are seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton, Maryland February 13, 2015. Reuters/Gary Cameron

A survey carried out by Obesity Policy Coalition has created quite a buzz, and there are many who want a ban on cartoon characters used on food packaging to lure kids. About 186 packaged foods with cartoon characters were surveyed, and 52 percent were classified as unhealthy, based on Food Standards' Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion.

The survey also found 32 percent of breakfast cereals, 61 percent of cheese snacks and 87 percent of snack bars with cartoon characters to be unhealthy, as they were laden with salt, sugar or fat. Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam, its products such as Froot Loops, Coco Pops, sugary Frosties, and Nestle’s Streets Paddle Pop and its Lion and sweet and sticky “fruit” straps Roll-Ups, are facing a lot of heat as they have been branded the worst offenders.

Public health experts want the use of cartoon characters to be restricted. They believe that the products are adding to Australia’s childhood obesity crisis. Some of the cartoon characters used on the packaging are stars of apps, videos and games. This is helping the food makers strengthen their grip on children.

Experts are finding the scenario very frustrating as these companies are creating pester power using cartoons. It has been reported that 27 percent of Australian children are considered either overweight or obese.

Chile has already restricted the use of cartoons on unhealthy food packaging. It is unfortunate that such marketing tactics are not used to promote healthy products instead, Jane Martin, the coalition’s executive manager, stated.

Children play a major role in influencing parents’ decisions on what to buy, and this is making the situation worse. Instead, parents must make the right food choices for their children and use purchasing discretion to decide on what is healthy and what is not.

Clearly, industry self-regulation is not working as it does not cover promotions on food packaging. The Obesity Policy Coalition is now urging manufacturers to stop using animated characters to promote junk food to children. The coalition is also asking the federal government to revise existing junk food marketing regulations.

“Peak health bodies, such as the World Health Organisation, recognise that restricting junk-food marketing to children is a vital step in improving children's diets and slowing our serious obesity problem,” Martin said in a release.

While Nestle has stated that it “is voluntarily strengthening its policy around marketing to children effective January 2018,” a Kellogg's spokesperson said that the call to ban cartoon characters on packaging is like asking Qantas to get rid of its “flying kangaroo,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald.