Supermarkets blamed for unhealthy children

CONVENIENCE supermarkets are exposing children to high calorie unhealthy junk food at the checkout, researchers in Yorkshire have warned.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from Sheffield University’s School of Health and Related Research found 90 per cent of food products on display at the checkouts were defined as “very unhealthy” by the Food Standards Agency and packed with high amounts of fat, sugar and salt.

Checks carried out at inner-city convenience stores from the three leading supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda found the main healthy product on display was sugar-free chewing gum.

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The data was compiled in March 2012, a year after the Government signed its much-vaunted Responsibility Deal with retail and industry giants in which the supermarkets pledged to “encourage and enable people to adopt a healthier diet”.

Childhood obesity has soared dramatically in the last 20 years in the UK blamed by doctors on increasing consumption of high calorie and unhealthy foods and lack of exercise.

Research has shown that the number of attempts children pester their parents to influence their purchases peaks in the three to five year age group.

Jason Horsley, from the university, said: “The checkout is an area which all shoppers must pass through, so displays of highly desirable calorie-dense foodstuffs are an unavoidable exposure.

“Children are a significant market for retailers of processed foodstuffs and budgets dedicated to advertising to children have grown exponentially in the last three decades. Youngsters are often naïve to sophisticated marketing techniques and they influence parents’ purchases through pester power.”

The research, published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition, was designed and carried out by university medical students.

Comment: Page 16.