Nearly 75% of food & drinks marketed at kids are unhealthy: UNICEF

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Almost three quarters of the food and drinks aimed at kids in Netherlands supermarkets contain too much sugar, saturated fat, calories or salt, children’s rights organization UNICEF concluded after analyzing around 2 thousand such products. The vast majority of baby porridges, breakfast cereals, snacks and children’s desserts do not fit within the Netherlands Nutrition Center’s guidelines for healthy nutrition, known as the ‘bracket of five’, Het Parool reports.

“I find the fact that three quarters of the products do not fit within the five bracket shocking,” UNICEF director Suzanne Laszlo said to the newspaper. “Many children do not have a healthy diet. They eat too little of what is good for them and too much of what they don’t need. This makes them susceptible to diabetes and obesity, for example.”

The researchers looked at various types of products. In the breakfast cereals category they found that the children’s products are less healthy than the adult products. In the biscuits and drinks categories, most products contain too much sugar, energy, salt or too little fiber. In the dessert department, not a single children’s product falls in the bracket of five. 

“If the balance in the diet deviates once, that is of course not so bad,” Laszlo said. “But the right to healthy food is a very important children’s right. We used to focus primarily on countries with low incomes, but we must be aware that the right to healthy food must also be available in the Netherlands.”

UNICEF wants supermarkets to set up the baby shelf differently, so that only responsible products are displayed. The organization called for “more honest” and “clearer” communication and a ban on marketing unhealthy products at children. “In this way we make it easier for parents to make the right food choices.”

The sector organization that covers supermarkets, CBL, called it “a pity” that UNICEF limited its research to specific “children’s products”. “Nothing stands in the way of a healthy choice at the supermarket. After all, apples, snack tomatoes, milk and wholewheat bread are also available for children,” spokesperson Liane ter Maat said to the newspaper. “Eating something now and then that does not fit in the bracket of five is not so bad either.”

The Netherlands Nutrition Center is pleased with UNICEF’s research. “I think this could be an eye-opener for many people,” nutrition expert Iris Groenenberg said to Het Parool. “Supermarkets try to sell all kinds of products that are especially for children. But the reassuring message is: you don’t need all those special kids products at all! If a child eats a healthy and varied diet according to the bracket of five, they get all the nutrients they need.”

She recommends slowly getting children used to different flavors. “If you let children drink plain water, that becomes normal. And then you can give a lemonade afterwards. But if you start with too much sweet and salty at a young age, you will develop sweet and salty taste preferences. For example, start with the vegetables as they are, then children will get used to that.”

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