Two-Thirds of UK’s Major Food Corporations Rely on Sales of Unhealthy Products Targeting Children

by Ella

A recent report reveals that seven out of the ten largest food companies in the UK derive a significant portion of their revenue from the sale of unhealthy products, often marketed to children through enticing packaging.

Childhood obesity is a pressing issue in the UK, with statistics showing that one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they finish primary school. Additionally, nearly a million children are affected by type 2 diabetes, and over a third are at risk of developing food-related illnesses. Shockingly, 95% of children exceed the recommended daily sugar intake, with 66% surpassing the recommended limit for salt consumption. Moreover, only a mere 9% of children meet their daily fruit and vegetable requirements.


The University of Oxford, on behalf of Bite Back, a youth activist movement focused on addressing flaws in the food system, conducted an analysis titled “Fuel Us, Don’t Fool Us.” This study examined the sales trends of ten leading food and drink companies in the UK and explored the prevalence of unhealthy products – defined as those high in fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS) – and their impact on children’s dietary habits.


Findings from the report indicate that in 2022, the majority of sales for seven out of the ten companies stemmed from HFSS foods. Notably, Ferrero emerged as the corporation with the highest reliance on unhealthy products, with all of its sales falling into this category. Mondelez International followed closely, with 98% of its total sales attributed to HFSS items amounting to £2.8 billion. Other companies, such as Unilever and Kellogg’s (now Kellanova), reported 84% and 77% of their sales, respectively, derived from HFSS products.


In contrast, Danone exhibited the lowest proportion of unhealthy foods in its product lineup, constituting only 2% of its total sales. Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola also boasted less than half of their sales originating from HFSS items, at 33% and 36%, respectively. These companies prioritize products that do not meet the HFSS threshold, such as dairy products, bottled water, savory snacks, and low-sugar beverages.


Despite these findings being based on 2022 data, they underscore the prevalent sale of products inconsistent with the UK’s dietary guidelines. The top five food and drink categories driving sales included chocolate, savory snacks, reduced-sugar soft drinks, regular soft drinks, and ice cream – none of which align with the Eatwell Guide’s recommendations for healthy eating habits.

In response to the report, Unilever and Nestlé emphasized that the analysis only accounted for a portion of their product portfolios and provided additional insights into their healthier offerings. However, the pervasive influence of HFSS products on children’s dietary choices remains a significant concern.

Research has established a clear link between food advertising and children’s preferences for unhealthy products, with British children exposed to billions of online and TV adverts promoting HFSS items annually. Moreover, packaging plays a crucial role in shaping children’s food choices, with many companies employing child-friendly designs, including cartoon characters and playful imagery, to appeal to younger consumers.

Bite Back advocates for manufacturers to reformulate their recipes to reduce sugar, salt, and fat content while increasing fiber. Furthermore, the report urges businesses to set healthier food sales targets, phase out HFSS advertising, introduce transparent labeling, and adopt sustainability initiatives to combat climate change.

While government intervention, such as the implementation of the soft drinks industry levy in 2018, has yielded positive results in reducing sugar consumption, further legislative action is needed. UK policymakers are urged to enact regulations that restrict the marketing of HFSS foods across all channels, mandate front-of-pack labeling, and incentivize healthier food production.

In conclusion, the report underscores the urgent need for action from both businesses and governments to address the pervasive influence of unhealthy food products on children’s diets. By prioritizing the health and well-being of future generations, stakeholders can collectively work towards creating a healthier food environment for all.



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