Cartoon characters labeled food villains

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent
The Guardian
Tuesday August 21, 2007

 

Food products promoted by popular cartoons and film characters are undermining parents' efforts to make their children eat healthily, according to a survey published by a consumer group today.

It warns that biscuits and other snacks are being advertised as ideal for school lunchboxes when in fact they are high in fat and sugar. The unhealthiest foods include many popular cereals as well as biscuits. Products on the blacklist all attract red "traffic light" labels under the new system introduced by the government's Food Standards Agency.

The series and characters identified by Which? for its Cartoon Heroes and Villains report include The Simpsons, Bratz, Shrek and Spider-Man, as well as new characters created by food companies themselves. Three-quarters of parents interviewed by Which? said they thought it was irresponsible for companies to feature cartoon characters on unhealthy foods and wanted the practice to be stopped. They also objected to marketing practices linking purchases to competitions and promotions on websites.

The report cites Bratz characters appearing on packs of Bon Bon Buddies' Fabulous Biscuits, said to be high in fat, saturates and sugar, and characters from the film Flushed Away on packs of Burton's Jammie Dodgers and on Kellogg's Coco Pops Straws, which are both identified as high in saturates and sugar.

A Happy Feet penguin was used on the box of high-sugar Weetabix chocolate flavour Weetos, and Shrek appeared on packs of Kellogg's Frosties. The Simpsons appeared on Butterkist honey nut popcorn, which is high in sugar, while Spider-Man was used on packs of Nesquik chocolate flavour cereal.

Winnie the Pooh and Tigger appeared on a selection of products including Marks & Spencer's soft fruit gums and Nestlé's little chocolate pots, high in both saturates and sugar. The Pink Panther was used on Northumbrian Fine Foods' Jammy Wheels, which are high in saturates and sugar.

Sue Davies, chief policy adviser of Which?, said: "There are precious few examples of cartoons being used to promote healthy products. Our research shows that the majority are being used to encourage children to eat fatty, sugary and salty foods. We are calling on companies to follow the example of Warner Bros and Disney, and no longer use cartoons to promote unhealthy foods.

"With so many parents fed up with the amount of marketing aimed at their children, it also makes commercial sense for cartoon brands to distance themselves from unhealthy food products. Regulation should be put in place to protect children from all forms of irresponsible marketing of unhealthy foods, whether it's TV advertising, packaging, free gifts or websites."

For its research Which? bought examples of products featuring popular cartoon characters from supermarkets and looked at other food promotions using cartoon characters between March and June. It then questioned 557 UK adults with children under 16 in face-to-face interviews at the beginning of July.

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said: "The report is bizarre given that the UK already has some of the strictest regulations in the world when it comes to advertising and promoting food and drink products to children, and industry is fully complying with these rules.

"There are regulations in place that ban the use of licensed characters on TV ads for high fat, sugar and salt products aimed at primary school children or younger."

Kellogg's said in a statement: "No further Kellogg's promotions will use licensed characters; the focus is now on entertainment, health or activity."

The blacklist

Bratz (MGA Entertainment). Bon Bon Buddies Bratz Fabulous Biscuits, promoted as being ideal for lunchboxes, contained 24.6g of fat, 15.4g of saturates and 37.6g of sugar per 100g

The Simpsons (20th Century Fox) were used to promote Honey Nut Popcorn from Butterkist with 41.3g sugar per 100g.

Shrek the Third (Dreamworks) featured on Kellogg's Frosties, with the incentive of a free child's cinema ticket for which it was necessary to collect three different codes from special packs (37g sugar per 100g).

Coco the Monkey (Kellogg's) was shown in ads with other cartoon animals promoting Coco Pops Straws (6g saturates per 100g, 34g sugar per 100g) and other Coco Pops products.

Spider-Man (Marvel) comics came free with Nesquik Chocolate Flavour Cereal (36.1g sugar per 100g).

Pink Panther (MGM). Northumbrian Fine Foods Pink Panther Jammy Wheels contained 10.4g saturates per 100g and 30.1g sugar per 100g.

Source: Which?