CHILD obesity is a terrible problem fuelled by the huge amount of sugar we let youngsters eat. Now shocking research has shown that children who see as few as 20 TV adverts for sugary breakfast cereals a week eat an alarming 30 per cent more of them than children who see none.
Scientists found that for every 10 cereal ads a child under five watched weekly, their consumption of the sugar-packed products jumped by almost 15 per cent.
The food manufacturers say the child obesity crisis is not just about sugary breakfast cereals – but they would, wouldn’t they? The fact is that some cereals are more than a third sugar – meaning a 30g bowl can contain about three teaspoons’ worth.
My own research last year into the cereal offenders showed that an average helping of Frosties or Coco Pops contains five teaspoons of sugar. You may as well let your kids start the day with a chocolate bar!
I discussed this whole issue of children and sugar with Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, when we met at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity in Westminster last week.
Me with Tam Fry in Westminster
His reaction to this new scientific research is uncompromising. “We need a sugar tax on cereals and a blanket ban on advertising these products to children,” he says.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of the pressure group Action on Sugar, says: “There’s no doubt that sugary cereals are one of the reasons so many children are becoming obese, with some now developing type two diabetes in adolescence.”
TV chef Jamie Oliver, who lobbied for a sugar tax and now backs the Sugar Smart campaign aimed at reducing sugar consumption across all ages, says: “We’re facing a growing crisis where one in four children are leaving school either overweight or obese, seriously increasing their chances of developing diet-related diseases earlier in adult life.”
And yet the Government recently decided it was not going to extend the sugar tax on fizzy drinks to cover other products. That decision looks increasingly bizarre in the light of the latest evidence about the damage being done to our children.
The Government’s own official figures show that one in five children entering primary school is now overweight or obese. Public Health England says the average child under ten now consumes 14 teaspoons’ worth of sugar daily.
That’s more than twice the daily limit for ADULTS that the World Health Organisation recommends.
The latest study into TV advertising was carried out at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University in America, who found more than 40 per cent of children were regularly exposed to TV adverts for high sugar breakfast cereals.
Writing in the journal Appetite, the researchers stated: “These findings support recommendations to limit the marketing of high-sugar foods to young children. Ample evidence suggests cereals most heavily advertised to children are the least nutritious and contain the greatest amounts of added sugars.”
In Britain, food makers are banned from showing adverts for unhealthy foods during children’s TV programmes – but many children still see commercials for sugary foods at other times.
A somewhat complacent-sounding spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation said sugar tax would make “no significant difference” to the obesity crisis, adding: “The causes of the obesity challenge we face in this country are far more complicated than any single ingredient, food or drink.”
Surely, the sugary breakfast cereals which start a child’s day are a great place to start tackling the crisis!