Parents fear children are exposed to junk food at school

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A survey of by the Children’s Food Campaign highlights parents’ concerns that their children are learning to associate foods high in fat, salt and sugar with good behaviour at school.

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A total of 140 parents, representing 241 children aged two-17, responded to the survey.

One concern highlighted by parents was that their children were being exposed to junk food at school.

One parent of a three-year-old said, ‘Make Scottish schools best practice zones schools are currently providing Yazoo milkshakes to children and allow them to bring high fat, sugar and salt snacks and lunches in.’

Another said, ‘Two ice-cream vans outside my kids’ school every day.’

Some parents suggested that schools should make children more aware of advertising strategies and teach them about processed foods and healthy choices. One parent said that schools and clubs should be banned from giving children junk ‘treats’.

Other findings

Of those that took part in the survey, nine in ten said they are concerned about the impact junk food marketing is having on their children.

The majority of parents (56 per cent) named TV adverts as the marketing method of greatest concern, followed by popular children’s TV/film characters in promotions and product packaging (49 per cent).

Just this week, Kinder was told to remove adverts on its websites, YouTube and an app, after the UK watchdog ruled that they promoted high fat, salt and sugar products to young children. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) said the firm broke the rules on junk food promotion by using games and videos of toys for toddlers.

Parents who took part in the survey also cited examples of where they had seen junk food marketing targeting children or where children were being exposed and encouraged to eat junk food.

Many respondents were concerned by the number of products that were marketed as being healthy but contained unhealthy ingredients, or which sought to create associations with responsible parenting.

Parents also flagged up the ways in which junk food is promoted in supermarkets, cinemas and other places children spend time.

One parent of a three-, seven-, and nine-year-old, said, ‘I now don’t take my kids food shopping with me when I can avoid it as they are sucked in by absolutely everything. Most of all, the awful sweets and displays of chocolates by the tills. My toddler emptied an entire display into my trolley while I was putting the shopping into the bags last week, I hate it.’

Another parent of a five-, six- and 10-year-old, cited, ‘Vending machines at a children’s indoor play area, a self-certified  “healthy café” in the local gym/pool, selling lollipops, sweets and crisps.’

What do parents want changed?

The majority of parents were strongly supportive of the measures MPs are considering to tackle junk food advertising, including a ban on child-friendly cartoon characters on all unhealthy food packaging and an end to celebrity endorsements of junk food.

A total of 87 per cent were in favour of a 9pm watershed policy for all advertising of foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt. However, many parents said they wanted the policies to go further. Suggestions included:

  • Changes to packaging on junk food
  • Educating parents
  • Positive advertising of healthier products
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