Beware, the junk food trap
17 November 2008
Report: Cereals not as healthy as claimed
By Shuhada Elis
Breakfast cereals, aggressively advertised and promoted as healthy food for children, are making them fat, even obese. Do not be fooled by the nutritional benefits printed on cereal boxes as the food inside is laden with fat, sugar and salt. This damning judgment is contained in the Junk Food Trap Report released by Consumers International (CI) here yesterday.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) secretary-general Muhammad Sha'ani Abdullah warned that the junk food trap would cause hypertension, diabetes and high-cholesterol problems in Malaysia to soar.
Fomca is a member of CI.
Sha'ani said the impact such food had on Malaysian children and the national health budget was "too alarming" to ignore.
Last year, the Health Ministry spent RM180 million or 20 per cent of its RM900 million budget on drugs for chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
CI Kuala Lumpur regional office head Datuk Indrani Thuraisingham said children brought up on these cereals, as well as fast food and drinks, faced a "health time bomb".
The Junk Food Trap Report revealed that each 100g box of cereal could contain up to 25 teaspoons of sugar.
The report was compiled based on a study of foods targeted at children below the age of 16, marketed by six multinational companies in eight countries.
Indrani said the research found that children were falling for the marketing ploys of foods that were high in fat, sugar and salt.
"These companies share the same characteristics. They use cartoon characters, cele-brities, free toys and competitions to attract children.
"But their food and drinks have a negative impact on children's health."
The research was conducted from April to June by CI representatives in Malaysia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines.
Indrani said fast food companies were also using insidious ways to sell to children, such as setting up membership clubs.
She said one international fast food chain had about 58,000 members in its club.
"Sometimes these companies go to schools to conduct activities, an indirect way of marketing to kids."
Sha'ani said Fomca would urge the government to develop stringent guidelines against the marketing of unhealthy food.
"Junk food marketing is a serious threat that we should address. They should stop promoting unhealthy food in schools in whatever form."
Fomca would ask for funding from the Health Ministry to conduct research on the impact of food marketing to children as it wanted the government to focus on preventive health care.
Sha'ani said it would also lobby the government to adopt the International Code on Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children, which had been submitted to the World Health Organisation.
Among the code's guidelines are a ban on radio or TV advertisements of unhealthy food from 6am to 9pm, ban on the inclusion of free toys or cartoon characters in food packaging and a ban on using new media, such as the Internet, and text messaging to lure the children.
This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 5. September 2008