European consumer’s group calls for a crackdown on “bogus” health claims on sugared-up food products marketed to children

Friday, February 09, 2018 by

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) is urging the European Commission (EC) to look into the misleading labels of “unhealthy food and beverage products” that claim to be good for its target markets.

The BEUC’s recently launched campaign aims to boycott the EC’s “long-standing failure” to put an end to the “bogus food claims” reportedly made by the various manufacturers of products that have high fat, salt, or sugar content. The EC was initially supposed to publish nutrient profiles nine years ago, and this could have prevented the proliferation of false claims by manufacturers.

Pauline Constant, communications manager for food, health, sustainability, and safety, says that the profiles must be published soon. If the profiles remain unpublished, this will turn into a 10-year-old concern. She adds that making the data public can help curb the possibility of an obesity epidemic since consumers need to be made aware that products which claim to be healthy can’t always be trusted. (Related: Food Packaging Tricks — Why Reading The Label Is Not Enough.)

Powdered beverages and kids products are the “worst offenders”

The BEUC highlighted the fact that powdered beverages and products for children are the “worst offenders,” especially on social media. These two product types often come with health claims even though they contain a lot of sugar.

Constant explains that based on real-life examples, food products full of fat, salt, or sugar are being marketed as “high in fibers,” contains “B vitamins,” or “boosts your immune system.” It is misleading to sell a hot drink containing at least 75 percent sugar as full of “calcium and vitamins.” Manufacturers are taking advantage of these claims by using them as marketing tools instead of indicators of a healthy product for consumer guidance.

The BEUC’s social media campaign named certain beverages such as “Nestlé’s Nesquik, Idilia Foods’ Cola Coa, and Mercator’s Ben Quick.” The organization also mentioned Danone’s Actimel Kids, which claims to contain vitamin D but also has high levels of sugar.

Olivera Medugorac, Nestlé’s European affairs manager, addressed the campaign and pointed out that the company backs the introduction of nutrient profiles. Medugorac shares that Nestlé was one of the companies that approved the “joint call for urgent adoption of EU-wide nutrient profiles for nutrition and health claims” last May 2017. She adds that Nestlé wants to ensure that nutrient profiles are used to help consumers, industry, government, and public health stakeholders make more informed choices when it comes to food and beverages.

Constant maintains that the practice is deceptive, especially since it gives unhealthy products a “healthy halo.” She concludes that the “problematic” practice has a significant impact on products for children and babies. Parents who fall prey to false health claims on food products will buy them without a second thought because they “want the healthiest for their little ones.”

Who would think twice about getting baby cereals that have “iron, zinc, and vitamins?” It might not even cross the minds of parents to check the warnings behind the packages about the 30 percent sugar content of the same baby cereals, especially since the warnings often come in small characters.

Only time will tell if the EC finally publishes the nutrient profiles that the BEUC has been asking for since 2009.

Foods and drinks with a high sugar content

Aside from powdered drinks and food products, avoid buying these items because they may have a high sugar content:

  • BBQ sauce – Two tablespoons of BBQ sauce can contain at least 14 grams (g) of sugar or over three teaspoons. A container of BBQ sauce may even contain at least 40 percent of pure sugar.
  • Chocolate milk – Unlike plain milk which is nutritious, chocolate milk also contains cocoa and sugar. An eight ounce (oz) [230 milliliters (ml)] glass of chocolate milk has two teaspoons of added sugar.
  • Iced tea – This chilled tea is usually sweetened with sugar or flavored with syrup. While the sugar content varies depending on location, a lot of commercially prepared iced teas can contain about 33 g of sugar per 12 oz (340 ml) serving, or around the same as a can of Coca-Cola.
  • Ketchup – A popular condiment, ketchup is full of sugar, just like BBQ sauce. A tablespoon of ketchup can contain at least a teaspoon of sugar.

Read more articles about fresh food and tips on how to eat healthy at

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