Pester Power or Parent Power? New Food Active and Children’s Food Campaign Report

Pester Power or Parent Power? New Food Active and Children’s Food Campaign Report

Stop using kids’ characters on unhealthy food and drink, say parents in our latest joint-report with the Children’s Food Campaign

‘Pester Power or Parent Power?’, a new report from the Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active, is based on research with 942 parents and carers of children across the UK, conducted with the support of the Guy’s and St Thomas Charity. It reveals that:

  • 9 in 10 (91%) parents taking part in the research say that the use of child-friendly characters on food and drink leads to their children requesting or pestering for those products.
  • More than 8 in 10 (84%) parents agree that characters should be removed from unhealthy sweets, confectionery and snack products.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) agreed that the use of children’s characters makes it more difficult to feed their children a healthy diet.

Rachel Allen, a mother of two in London, says

It would be really helpful if children’s food marketing (i.e. use of characters) could be swayed towards healthy foods (i.e. fruit, vegetables, no added sugar yogurts etc). It is really not helpful when you end up having a battle of wills in the supermarket over Paw Patrol chocolate sticks.”

 Whilst parents are most likely to prioritise price, brand and perceived health of products when shopping for themselves, many reported that the use of characters is the most powerful marketing tool for attracting their children’s attention towards specific products or brands, and can divert the choices they make as a parent.

 Lindsey Stephenson, a mother of two in the North West, says

“I took part in this survey because I felt it was important that as a parent, my voice was heard. Those who are allowing manufacturers and big brands to market to children should know the pressure they are putting parents under. Healthy choices need to be easy choices, but it’s a minefield out there. I want a little more understanding and empathy – so many decisions are made with no idea of what it’s like to go around Asda with a screaming child, all because there was a cartoon character on a rice crispy bar.”

The report notes that whilst advertising rules currently prohibit the targetting of children through the use of popular cartoon characters or celebrities in advertising for products that are high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS), there is still a major loophole in that regulations which do not apply to food and drink packaging. Earlier this year, supermarkets Lidl and Asda joined Tesco and Sainsbury’s in committing to the removal of child-friendly cartoon characters from breakfast cereal high in sugar. Both the Parliamentary Health Select Committee and the former Chief Medical Officer have previously called for the use of child-friendly characters on HFSS food and drink to be prohibited.

Alex Holt, our Programme Lead here at Food Active said,

We hope the Government takes note of this important collection of voices from parents across the UK, clearly stating that the use of cartoon characters on unhealthy food is a problem for them. Parents are acutely aware of the impact that these marketing tactics are having on their children’s food preferences and brand awareness, and the difficulties they present especially in light of the difficulties some already face in feeding their child/ren well.”

Barbara Crowther, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, says

Parents are clear – whether it’s Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol, Disney or Star Wars, or the brands’ own cartoon mascots, they have no place on the packaging of unhealthy food and drink. They confuse and undermine parents in trying to feed a healthy diet to their families, and cause unnecessary tension.  Whilst there’s been some progress on breakfast cereals in some supermarkets, it’s not nearly enough. This is why we are calling on the Government to consider regulations to restrict their use to healthier food and drink only.“

The Pester Power or Parent Power? report is released as the Government prepares to launch a new drive to tackle both adult and child obesity, especially in light of evidence of increased risk of negative outcomes if infected with viruses like Covid-19 for those affected by overweight and diet-related diseases such as Type2 diabetes or heart disease.  The report contains a series of recommendations for both Government and industry, which include refocusing any use of children’s characters towards healthier food and drink, as well as making front-of-pack colour-coded nutritional labelling mandatory. The organisations are also calling for products high in fat, salt and sugar to be removed from children’s eye-level on shelves and from store entrances, aisle ends and checkout areas where children are most likely to see them.

To see the full list of parent-informed recommendations and results, check out the full report below.

We also held a webinar to mark the launch of the report, to see the full recording and slides please click below.

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