Fast food outlets still marketing foods high in fat, sugar, salt to children: survey

25/09/2009 15:45

The latest international survey in which the Consumer Council of Fiji participated shows how the world’s three leading fast food outlets are still marketing meals with high levels of fat, sugar and salt to children.

The survey led by Consumers International (CI) involved 14 countries and covered McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC. The Fiji survey looked at McDonald’s and KFC who provided information on calories, fat, sugar and salt.

The international survey found that despite reformulating their products to reduce levels of fat, sugar and salt and offering ‘healthier’ options in some outlets, several fast food children’s meals were still found to contain more than 50% of a child’s guideline daily amount. For children between four and six years old some levels could reach 70% of the guideline daily amount.

The fast food chains’ marketing of children’s meals included free toys, cartoons and birthday parties that could appeal to very young children. All of the chains continue to include high sugar fizzy drinks in the children’s meals they market to children despite the fact that Coca Cola and Pepsi have policies that prohibit the marketing of their products to children under 12.

Marketing targeted at teenage children often promoted items from the adult menu that in many cases contain higher levels of fat, sugar and salt than the children’s options.

Fiji is yet to create standards and regulations to control the marketing of unhealthy food to children. While a Food & Nutrition Policy for schools has been established, the luring impact of unhealthy food advertising outside the school system is a matter of concern for the Consumer Council as supported by the CI survey. Surveys by the Ministry of Health and National Food & Nutrition Centre (NFNC) consistently show that the number of overweight children continues to grow. A NFNC survey in 2004 found that 14.5 of all children categories were overweight, while the number of overweight children under the age of 18 years had tripled compared to a similar survey in 1993.

The Council urges the Ministry of Health and other authorities to seriously look into the marketing of unhealthy food to children. It is important that action is taken now as the unhealthy status of the current generation of children will add to the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the future. The cost of public and private health care will undoubtedly skyrocket in the coming years if we do not stop the growth of a junk food generation.

The survey report is part of CI’s Junk Food Generation campaign calling for an international code on the marketing of food to children. The code would target the marketing of energy dense nutrient poor food high in fat sugar and salt to children under 16. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently developing recommendations on the issue for submission to member states.