From the Institute of Optimum Nutrition:

A new study* has found that yoghurts, cereal bars and ready meals marketed to children in the UK often contain more sugar and fat than the adult versions. These food categories were chosen by researchers because they are often perceived as being healthier options than ice-cream, confectionery and fast food.

The study, carried out by the University of Hertfordshire, analysed the sugar, salt and fat content, per 100g and per portion, of 147 yoghurts, 145 cereal bars and 144 ready meals, from seven major UK supermarket chains. The products were categorised as being intended for consumption by children or adults on the basis of the nature of the product and the packaging design and information (for instance, whether children’s cartoon characters or celebrities were used).

Apart from children’s ready meals, which were lower in salt than the adult versions, children’s products overall contained more sugar, salt and fat. In particular, children’s yoghurts were significantly higher in total sugars, total fat and saturated fat than adults’. Children’s muesli bars contained higher levels of saturated fat and salt. Children’s ready meals were significantly lower in sugar and fat per portion than adults’, but not when compared per 100g.

This study shows just how difficult it can be to buy healthy food for your children without spending hours poring over product labels. It is also important in the light of an earlier study showing that children who eat a lot of fast food, which tends to be higher in sugar, salt and fat, have lower IQs. Unsweetened, ‘live’ yoghurt, fresh fruit and home-cooked meals and muesli bars still seem to be the best options.

*Lythgoe A, Roberts C, Madden AM, Rennie KL (2013). Marketing foods to children: a comparison of nutrient content between children’s and non-children’s products. Public Health Nutr May 2 (Online ahead of print).