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European Snack Association markets unhealthy food to children through curriculum

Ecologist

1st February, 2009

The European Snack Association, a lobby group for the likes of Pringles and Walkers, provides curriculum materials claiming that crisps are healthier than apples.

The extraordinary claim, which is exposed in a new report by the Children’s Food Campaign, is followed by a table in which the ESA compared a 30g packet of crisps with an apple, arguing that the former was nutritionally superior because it contained ‘from twice to thirty times as much of all the vitamins and minerals, three times as much energy, more fibre and complex carbohydrate’, whilst neglecting to mention that crisps are often laden with salt, saturated fat and artificial flavourings. ESA has subsequently amended its web page.

The claim is just one among several made by manufacturers attempting to market unhealthy products to children. Others include warnings not to ‘restrict fat intake’ or ‘reduce food intake to lose weight’ by the UK Food and Drink Federation, and a justification by the British Soft Drinks Association says that artificial colours – some of which have been linked to childhood hyperactivity – merely ‘restore the colour lost from food during processing’, and warns green-minded kids not to refill plastic bottles in case they become ‘unsafe’.

In its report, ‘Through the Back Door’, the Children’s Food Campaign argues that such materials function as adverts within the classroom, and include ‘some blatant promotion of unhealthy products and brands dressed up as impartial advice’. It says the teaching aids contain messages which could not be presented through adult media sources.

Whilst the companies behind the claims are keen to stress their altruistic motives, the PR agencies that produce the materials are less circumspect:
‘Why should we (i.e. businesses) be talking to schools?’ asks Magenta Project Management on its website. ‘The most obvious answer is that by talking to schools you will have the opportunity to reach a captive audience of some 7.5 million young people, their teachers, school managers, governors, parents and the wider community…these people represent your current and future customers.’

The Children’s Food Campaign is calling for statutory measures and sanctions on companies which flout established guidelines on using commercial materials in schools.

 

 

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