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Lidl to remove cartoon characters from packaging: is it enough?

ByAilsa Nixon

Jan 19, 2020

Lidl has announced plans to remove cartoon characters from the packaging of eight own-brand cereals in a bid to encourage healthier breakfasts.

The change comes almost two years after the Health Select Committee recommended that all cartoon characters be removed from sugary foods. With researchers estimating that more than 100,000 young Scots are now classed as obese, it is clear a new approach to child health must be taken. But are changes to packaging really enough to curb this worrying trend?

Lidl’s head of corporate social responsibility, Georgina Hall, stated the company’s aim is to encourage parents to “make healthy and informed choices” regarding their childrens’ diets. In February 2019 a survey of 1,000 parents, conducted by Opinium, found that three-quarters had experienced pressure from their children while shopping, with half citing cartoon characters on packaging as contributing to this. Lidl hopes that by removing the crocodiles, bees, tigers and monkeys, there will be a reduction in “pester power.   ”

Health experts, such as Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance, claim that whilst the changes are positive, they are simply not enough. Cerny expressed that one retailer changing the packaging of one category of food is insufficient: “We need the government to introduce regulations to create a level playing field and protect children from all types of junk food marketing”.

With a single serving of Lidl’s Honey and Peanut Corn Flakes containing 14g of sugar (almost a child’s full daily allowance), packaging would appear to be far from the main issue. 

The Health Select Committee did recommend more than just a few brightly coloured characters being removed from a few high-sugar cereal packets; they also suggested that sugary foods be removed from the ends of aisles, promotions on junk foods be restricted and that social media firms reduce children’s exposure to junk food advertising. 

There is evidence of some of these changes, as those of us who have tried to grab some last minute Smarties can attest to. However, official government legislation is still lacking. 

Bake Off judge Prue Leith claims that banning packed lunches and serving all kids the same food would create a healthier youth, as lunch hour would become part of the curriculum. “It’s no good saying it’s up to the parents. We have lost the battle with a great swathe of parents who themselves were not taught to eat well or to cook”.

Health experts and the government do seem to be in agreement about one thing.    The key to solving the crisis is prevention. Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that “the key to a reduction of obesity is prevention and we must not hang around”.

However, there does appear to be discrepancy surrounding what area legislation should aim to tackle. Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, cites childhood obesity as resulting from a “whole range of factors, including socio-economic background, ethnicity and educational attainment”. It would therefore seem that restrictions on advertising may not go far enough in tackling this multifaceted crisis.

Lidl removing cartoon characters from their cereal boxes may not cure childhood obesity, but it may create one less screaming child in the breakfast aisle.

Something we can all support. 

Image: via Pixafuel