British Heart Foundation survey sparks festive food spat

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition

UK food manufacturers have slammed the latest report from the British Heart Foundation which alleges they are misleading mothers with false information about the fat, salt and sugar content of their children’s foods.

The foundation’s survey, published as part of its Food4Thought campaign​, claims that: “Nine out of ten (92 per cent) mums are misled by tactics manufacturers use to market children’s foods loaded with fat, salt and sugar​.”

It makes the claim after surveying parents’ perceptions about manufacturers’ statements such as free from artificial colours and preservatives, ​and a source of calcium, iron and six vitamins.

Partial health claims

BHF chief executive, Peter Hollins, concluded: "Mums are having the wool pulled over their eyes by food manufacturers. Smoke-and-mirror tactics means that foods targeted at children and high in fat, salt and sugar are being disguised with partial health claims suggesting they’re a healthy choice. Regularly eating these types of foods could have serious implications for kids’ future health​."

But, Julian Hunt, Food and Drink Federation’s director of communications, described the survey’s conclusions as “…a very bad Christmas cracker joke​.”

Hunt said: “The nutrition claims identified by BHF are not ‘partial health claims’ – they are approved under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, which is setting a strict legal framework for all claims on food packs. To claim otherwise is being completely disingenuous.”

He added that FDF members lead the world when it comes to ensuring that food recipes meet parents’ demands whether through the use of natural ingredients; reducing the amount of salt, fat or sugar used; or fortifying products with nutritionally-vital vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients.

Meanwhile, giving examples of what it alleges to be misleading claims, BHF identified products from Nestle and Kellogg.

Its survey showed that 76 per cent of mums believe that 'wholegrain​' means the product is likely to be healthy. But, according to a BHF statement: “Nestle states that​ Honey Shreddies are 'wholegrain​' and​ can 'keep your heart healthy and maintain a healthy body' yet a 45g average size serving contains more sugar (13.6g) than a ring doughnut (9.2g).”

Saturated fat

Also 63 per cent of mums think the claim: Source of calcium, iron and 6 vitamins means that the product is likely to be healthy. “Coco Pops use this line on their cereal and milk bars, yet per 100g they are higher in saturated fat and sugar than the average chocolate cake,”​ said BHF.

A Nestlé spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “Breakfast cereal remains one of the healthiest ways to start the day, and is generally lower in sugar, salt and fat than most breakfast alternatives. It's important to consider the daily diet and total meal occasion and not look at nutrients in isolation. Sugar is a carbohydrate and thereby plays an important role in providing energy in the morning.”

A Kellogg spokesperson responded: “A Kellogg’s Coco Pops Cereal and Milk bar actually contains less than two teaspoons of sugar per bar and has half the calories (84) and far less fat than a chocolate bar. Parents understand this because we give them the information they need, through our front of pack labeling, to make similar comparisons​.”

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