• Friday, December 08, 2023
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Kids’ TV characters target mealtimes – with few health benefits


 I owe a lot to Hello Kitty. The pointy-eared white cat has got me through winter colds (cardigans), dental hygiene (toothbrushes), potty-training (knickers), and other rites of passage. I’m not talking personally, of course, but as any parent knows when it comes to the delicate art of persuading a preschooler to do what you want, they are putty in her furry white paws. I have a similar karmic debt to Thomas the Tank Engine products, but while I appreciate their help in encouraging vital essentials, such as wearing clothes, I do not need them to ply my kids with sugary, fatty food and hook them to a lifetime on a bad diet.

This, of course, is the well-aired argument against the way kid’s favourite characters are increasingly used to market certain products. But it’s a never-ending flow, and there are newbies on the way – Crosse & Blackwell 4 Kids canned meatball range, featuring Tom and Jerry, Doctor Who, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie-the-Pooh and others. And the ink is still fresh on a Hello Kitty food licensing deal. So how do character-branded products such as these

measure up nutritionally?

Chocolate and confectionery

Chocolate and kids’ characters – a pact made in hell. I can’t count how often a shopping trip has turned into a red-faced walk of shame due to a strategically placed Hello Kitty lolly and a screaming two-year-old with deprivation issues. Kinnerton has got the market licked, with its well-loved foil-wrapped characters (Fireman Sam, Hello Kitty, all the usual suspects). Then there are Tesco’s Mr Tickle sweets, Dora the Explorer cake mixes, Bob the Builder crisps, Scooby Doo sweets – all designed to lure your little snot-stained angel. No big deal, you say? Maybe, but when we see a lolly in lurid pink foil we know it is packaging. A two-year-old, however, sees something wondrous: Hello Kitty herself! In chocolate! On a stick!

Chilled desserts

Of course we all like a bit of comfort food, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What makes me angry, however, is the way that some is of this stuff is cynically rebranded as healthy, when it is anything but. “No artificial colours, flavours or

preservatives!” trills some packaging, conveniently forgetting to mention that they are so high in saturated fat and sugar they would not be advertised on kid’s television (Ice Fresh’s Peppa Pig and Thomas-shaped lollies – I am thinking of you). Then take the average nipper’s yoghurt pot, containing no “friendly bacteria”, very little fruit (but concentrate), and oodles of added sugar. Tesco’s Mr Men yoghurt with Marshmallow scores “red” in sugar (under the soon-to-be voluntary traffic label scheme), its 15g per pot comprising 18% of a 5-10 year-olds’ GDA, according to Malcolm Clark from the Children’s Food Campaign. Yoplait Peppa Pig Fromage Frais’ sugar content of 12g per 100g is rated “orange” (in their recommended serving of two 45g pots).


Over in the canned food section we encounter more slickery. Take Heinz and its tinned “one-of-your-five-a-day” pasta shapes (Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony etc – some with omega three!). According to Heinz website, never mind “brawling over Brussels sprouts or screaming over steaming cabbage”

tinned pasta is an “appealing alternative to piles of boiled carrots and frozen peas” (because of the tomatoes in the sauce). So, I’m guessing that’s carrots and peas sprinkled lusciously with salt then, because while the pasta may be low-fat and sugar, according to Clark, it scores “orange” in salt, containing 0.8g in the can – just under half of the 2g GDA for 1-3 year olds.But fresh vegetables – such a hassle, eh?

Health food 

The good news is that more nutritiously-minded producers are finally cottoning on that kids will pretty much eat anything if you slap a sticker on it. Causing quite a stir in our house are Disney’s Easy Peel oranges (with Mickey Mouse stickers!), which have taken oranges from boring duty-food to a zany, many-stickered source of pleasure. Don Simon Disney Smoothies are made only from fruit purees, with no added sugar.

Or, do I need to lighten up? Do you serve this kind of grub to your kids? Is it capitalism-in-a-can or fine as a one-off treat?

Culled from guardian.co.uk