Not recommended – ‘healthy’ snacks fit for bins, not lunchboxes

Popular children’s lunchbox snacks have come under fire from one of Australia’s leading nutritionists, Dr Rosemary Stanton, for misleading parents with ‘health washing’ claims.

As part of a Food Detectives campaign run by children’s health advocacy group, The Parents’ Jury, Dr Stanton examined the nutritional composition of popular snack foods that parents thought were healthy lunchbox choices. Many of the seemingly healthy snacks were found to be too high in sugar or salt and most provided very little dietary value.

“I am astounded by the potentially misleading statements on the packaging of these products such as “sweetened with fruit”, “50% less fat” and “superfood”. When coupled with images of fruit or kids being physically active it is no surprise that some parents believe they are sending their children off to school with a healthy lunch box,” said Dr Stanton.

Out of the six products assessed, Uncle Toby’s Muesli Bar – Yoghurt Topps (Mango and Passionfruit) was deemed the worst offender. “Using yoghurt and fruit in the name of the product sounds healthy, but the yoghurt is a ‘compound’, with sugar and vegetable fat as the two major ingredients while mango and passionfruit make up a mere 3 percent of the product. The bars also have more than 30 ingredients including a variety of additives and preservatives, some of which are known to trigger asthma in susceptible children.

Another gripe of nutritionists is the use of Percentage Daily Intake (%DI) figures, “With a product clearly designed for children, the %DI figures, which are designed for adults, are confusing and should not be included,” Dr Stanton said.

Melbourne mum of two, Cheryl McLeod, said, “I often pop a muesli bar or yoghurt-coated snack into the kids’ lunchboxes because I thought they were a better option than chocolate bars or chips. However, Dr Stanton’s comments confirm that parents have to check the labels even when snacks appear to be healthy. A few of our regular snacks will now go in the bin instead of the lunchbox!”

Alice Pryor, Campaigns Manager for The Parents’ Jury says marketing claims around many children’s snack products have the potential to mislead parents, “Products which use phrases such as ‘made with whole grains’, ‘lunchbox friendly’ and ‘tastes good, naturally’ are designed to give the impression that they are ideal lunch options, when often they are not. In addition, many of these products are located in the ‘so called’ health food aisles which reinforces an image of ‘healthiness’.”

“Tools such as the new Health Star Ratings are useful in comparing the healthiness of like products, but parents need to get into the habit of checking individual labels and aim for snacks with less sugar; better still, select whole fruit and unsweetened yoghurt for lunch snacks,” said Ms Pryor.


Media contact: Alice Pryor 0416 219 261

Notes to Editor

  • The Parents’ Jury is an online network of parents, grandparents and carers, who are interested in improving the food and physical activity environments of Australian children.
  • It’s supported by Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Victoria, VicHealth, YMCA Victoria and the Bluearth Foundation
  • More information on the products examined

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