We all know them: foods whose marketing is either directly aimed at children as a target group or intended to appeal to parents because it suggests a special suitability for children. They are called baby-like foods. There are no limits to the imagination, whether it is using the words “Kind” or “Kids” in the product name or designing the packaging or product in a way that appeals to children, for example cereals in the shape of animals. Or with a designation or description of the product on the product packaging directed at children or parents, for example “For your little ones”, as well as references to children’s games, learning effects and accessories such as trading cards. Anyone who buys this food thinks they are doing something good for children. However, these “child-like foods” are not legally defined and do not have to meet any special nutritional criteria or other quality requirements.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is responsible for implementing the National Strategy for the Reduction and Innovation of Sugar, Fat and Salt in Finished Products (NRI). The objective is to promote a healthy lifestyle, reduce overweight and obesity in the population, especially in children and young people, and reduce the incidence of food-related diseases. Whether and how the sugar, fat, salt and energy content of finished products changes over time is regularly analyzed. Selected product monitoring results for 2021 are now available (https://www.mri.bund.de). It includes a total of 4,466 products such as pasta sauces, cold sauces, frozen ready meals, meat substitutes and sausages and pastries. They were related to the purchasing behavior of 30,000 representative households.
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A special focus of product monitoring is on products that look like children compared to products that were not advertised to children. On the plus side, kid-friendly products have, on average, less energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt than comparable products not intended for kids. However, some higher energy or nutrient values were found in cold sauces, meat substitutes/sausage substitutes, and cakes. Although childlike pasta sauces have the lowest average salt content, they also have the highest sugar content. Baby-looking waffle and thin baked goods show surprisingly high fat or sugar content.
These results are not satisfactory. They show that there is a legal obligation for manufacturers of finished products to implement the NRI. The German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine has been demanding this for a long time: It must not be the case that products with a childlike appearance have a less favorable nutrient composition than those that are not specifically intended for children! This must be clearly specified and regulated by the legislature (https://www.dgkj.de).