Hidden dangers in food marketed to children

Salt, sugar, fat – these are the predominant ingredients in foods that are advertised to children, a study shows.

Worldwide the prevalence of childhood obesity and its related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have increased dramatically and South African children are part of these concerning statistics.

The figures 

“Prevalence of overweight in children (2-14 years) in the country amounts to 16.5% in girls and 7.1% in boys, with obesity contributing to a further 11.5% in girls and 4.7% in boys,” shows a study entitled ‘Branding and cartoon character usage in food marketing to children’ by Janlie van Lieshout, a registered dietician at Potchefstroom Hospital.

The purpose of the study is to describe the frequency of television advertising to children, the usage of branding and cartoon characters in the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children aged 3 to 18 years in South Africa, and was done to obtain evidence to support the policy development.

“Research has indicated that marketing practices aimed at children mainly promote foods and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS),” she says.

“When looking further into advertisements of foods to South African children, we saw that they have an influence on the dietary behaviour of a child, and these influences the rest of NCDs and children being overweight in South Africa.”

The impact of such advertising 

According to Van Lieshout, food branding influences children’s nutritional knowledge, food choices, purchasing and dietary behaviours, and can contribute to being overweight. Her study notes that marketing, using cartoon characters and branding, has increased the loyalty and product choice in children.

The study shows that, a total of 4 916 advertisements were shown on the free-to-air TV channels of which 1 030 (21%) were food advertisements. These ads aimed at children mostly included products such as sweets, confectionery, snack foods, sugared beverages, pre-sugared breakfast cereals, sweetened milk, and dairy products. Healthy food advertisements, on the other hand, accounted for the minority (1.4%) of ads.

Powerful tool

Mariaan Wicks, a senior lecturer at North West University says: “Marketing is a very powerful tool and we should, therefore, limit the marketing of unhealthy foods and try to promote healthy food marketing.”

“Food branding influences food choices and influences food preferences. We eat what we like, so, unfortunately, children at a very critical period of their lives don’t understand the link between food and health,” says Wicks.

Regulating the industry

Wicks’ research is aimed to develop a framework for regulating the marketing of high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children in South Africa with the support of an appropriate nutrient profiling model.

This framework was submitted the Department of Health in 2017 and is currently awaiting response “We recommend that this framework is legislated to regulate the marketing of foods to children in South Africa to support the Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Obesity,” Wicks says.

Although advertising is not the only contributing factor leading to obesity in children, it is considered to be one of many factors contributing to children being overweight. “Therefore, it is necessary for the food industry to engage in responsible food marketing aimed at children in order to take one step forward in the prevention of obesity and NCDs in children,” she says. – Health-e News 

Monatea: The new no-sugar drink

With obesity levels on the rise globally and locally, and the link between it and the high intake of sugar, a newly launched drink is a welcomed reprieve. 

“We saw that South Africa lacked a beverage for people who were aware of the harm of excessive sugar intake and potentially problematic artificial sweeteners,” says Tsepo Montsi, founder of  Monatea.

“As such, South Africans were left with no alternative to obesity and diabetes-promoting products.”

A healthy alternative 

Montsi has developed a unique, unsweetened ready-to-drink beverage, also called Monatea.

This is an unsweetened, sparkling, cold-brewed Rooibos and botanical iced tea. Each variant contains a specially paired variety of fynbos as well as botanical superfoods, he says, and is also is a potent source of phytonutrients and antioxidants.

According to Montsi, the first step in combating the obesity problem is to provide alternative health-conscious products.

He says their range is 100% natural and contains zero sugar, zero sweeteners, zero preservatives and zero colourants.

The danger of too much sugar 

This company’s mission is to spread awareness about the impact of excessive sugar and sweetener intake, as well as bring clarity to health claims that often leave consumers with an inaccurate assessment of it.

“We have found the term ‘no added sugar’ [is] used in a manner that implies there is little sugar within the labelled product,” he says.

However, according to Montsi, what isn’t communicated is that while no cane sugar was actually added, alternatives such as honey or fruit juice are included which are sugar-rich in themselves. “Very often the resulting sugar content is quite comparable to cane sugar-sweetened beverages, but the wording ‘no added sugar’ implies otherwise.”

World Health Organisation guidelines recommend that to prevent obesity and tooth decay, adults and children should reduce their consumption of free sugars to less than 10% of their daily energy intake.


Montsi maintains that he doesn’t believe that sugar is evil, however, it’s no longer a secret that excessive sugar intake is extremely bad for the human body.

“It’s also well-known that the amount of sugar in the current serving sizes of sugary drinks is excessive, even with efforts to partially replace sugar with sweeteners. The jury is still out on sweeteners, and they may ultimately form part of the solution, but their definite metabolic effects (such as triggering insulin release) are extremely disconcerting.”

While it may be difficult to get away from their sugar addictions, in order to assist people with the transition towards unsweet and to recognise the possibility of moderate sugar intake, each of the Monatea’s variants is available lightly sweetened with a touch of cane sugar. “As far as we can tell, we have the lowest sugar levels in the market, and without sweeteners,” he adds.

Montsi says Monatea has enormous potential overseas and says they are already developing a line of loose leaf and powdered instant Monatea for the Chinese market. – Health-e News