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BBC encourages children to eat junk food!  

June 2003

The Food Commission, which co-ordinates The Parents Jury, has complained to BBC Worldwide about the recent relaunch of Tweenies Happy Meals at McDonalds.

The BBC has licensed the Tweenies to be used by both McDonalds and Burger King in the past, and the characters appear on a wide range of children's foods. In 2001 the total Tweenies franchise earned the BBC over £32m.

The Food Commission surveyed a number of products which use the Tweenie characters as a selling point and found that all were either high in salt, sugar, fat and/or saturated fat, according to government guidelines (see table below).

The BBC has attempted to defend their position by stating "We always seek to find a balance in which foods we license and we consult a nutritionist across our food ranges. 'Treat' foods are intended to be enjoyed by children within a varied and balanced diet. Our aim is to add enjoyment and value."

This is not the first time that the BBC has come under fire from The Food Commission. When criticised for allowing the Tweenies to be used to promote junk foods, the BBC issued a statement in October 2001 saying "We note with interest the comments from the Food Commission and, overall, we seek to license foods for children that are both healthy and enjoyable."

We can't help wondering where the 'balance' is in the 'healthy' foods listed below.

Manufacturer
Tweenies Product
High in …
McDonalds
Birthday meal: cheeseburger, regular French fries (with tomato ketchup), regular Coke, an apple and a slice of cake
Sugar
83g per meal
Fat
31g per meal
Saturated fat
13g per meal
Salt
3.25g per meal
Marks and Spencer
Meal for one: Chicken nuggets, chips, tomato ketchup and strawberry flavoured yogurt
Sugar
19.8g per meal
Heinz
Pasta shapes and tomato sauce
Salt
1.5g per 205g tin
Marks and Spencer
Wholemilk flavoured yogurt
Sugar
16.3g per 100g
McDougalls
Star banana-roony mini muffin mix
Sugar
32.4g per 100g
Marks and Spencer
Solid milk chocolate mini figures
Sugar
52.7g per 100g
Fat
32.4 g per 100g
Saturated fat
20.6g per 100g
Marks and Spencer
Individually wrapped white chocolate bars
Sugar
47.9g per 100 g
Fat
34.5g per 100g
Saturated fat
21.8g per 100g
BBC / Dailycer
Letter Time Choc & Honey cereal
Sugar
27g per 100g

The foods surveyed above are typical of the unbalanced diet which UK children eat every day. 22% of children are now overweight, with 85% of children consuming more than the maximum recommended amount (MRA) of sugar and 90% consuming more than the MRA of saturated fat.

The Food Standards Agency recently warned that children should also reduce the amount of salt they eat in order to reduce their risk of serious illnesses linked to high blood pressure later in life. Instead of simply selling licensing rights to the highest bidder the BBC could set standards of nutritional criteria and lead the way in encouraging children to eat healthier food.

Over one hundred parents have already complained to the BBC. If you also feel strongly about this issue please email: Worldwide.licensing@bbc.co.uk with your complaint. We would like to keep track of all the emails sent, and any replies received, so please send a copy to info@parentsjury.org.uk

What parents say

To date over 100 parents have complained to BBC Worldwide. Below are some of the comments and suggestions we have received from them:
"… the programme is excellent, and certainly one of the better programmes on children's television. However I am not impressed with the quality of food products marketed with the Tweenies brand logo... You could argue that they are all meant to be occasional treats for the kids, but even the yogurt - an every day food - is high in sugar. Surely the BBC could target more healthy products for the Tweenies to promote, as being 'cool' for kids to consume."
Mother of a three year old, SW London
"As a Nutritionist I'm appalled that the BBC is, by virtue of its partnership with these companies, endorsing foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt for children."
Mother from Harrogate, North Yorkshire
As a parent this concerns me greatly. It is a struggle to encourage children to eat healthily, especially when they are bombarded by adverts [for] products which are so unhealthy.
Member of The Parents Jury
"I am very disappointed to realise that the BBC has put a small increase in profits ahead of children's' health by choosing to allow McDonalds to use the Tweenies brand… Couldn't the BBC have shown more imagination, even leadership; Jake bananas, Fizz apples etc?"
Mother from Chester
Letter to the BBC:
"I would be grateful if you would consider more carefully in the future what products you choose to licence. The future health of children in the country is in a delicate balance, and the BBC, as a national institution, could lead the way in encouraging children to eat healthier food."
Mother from Redruth
Letter to the BBC:
I'm really disappointed to see that you are allowing the fab Tweenie foursome to promote fatty / sugary / generally junky meals and confectionery. As characters I think they are some of the most wholesome on tv, developing - with the help of Max and Judy - a really healthy approach to life. I have always been happy to let my three-year-old daughter watch the Tweenies, safe in the knowledge that she is getting the right messages. I would like to do the same with baby number three, when he/she comes along in the Autumn.
Member of The Parents Jury
"Did you have to sell the Tweenies out to such low-quality food outlets? Couldn't you have been a bit more selective about the products you chose? We are already paying through the licence fee for you to "inform, educate and entertain" us. That money starts to seem ill-spent if you disregard the vital health messages you convey to our children - whether on or off screen.
Mother of two from Shrewsbury, Shropshire
"It is very sad that the BBC, given its unique position, should market its products in such an unimaginative way, and has chosen to ignore the vast potential to lead the way in encouraging children to eat healthier food. For example, I would not disapprove of a Tweenie sticker on a fresh apple or a fresh banana."
Mother of three from NW London
"Whilst shopping recently the boys were pestering me for Tweenies yogurts. They could not understand why they weren't good for them if Milo could eat them, but at over 16% sugar, it is not a product I would buy."
Mother of two from Newcastle under Lyme
"There is so much potential for the BBC to be groundbreaking by allowing the use of BBC figures and names for the promotion of healthier foods. ... To say that children are not affected by marketing is a total denial of what every parent experiences and what every marketing company knows."
Member of The Parents Jury
Letter to the BBC:
"You may argue that the parents are at fault, but you make it very difficult for parents to offer healthy alternatives, when, wherever children go or whatever they watch these foods are being promoted, and literally pushed down there throats!"
Mother of four from Bishop Stortford
Email to the BBC
Diet is now thought to be the second most significant influence on diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease (after smoking), and you will be aware of the current campaign to encourage everyone (particularly children) to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. High consumption of fatty, sugary food and sugary drinks, combined with a low rate of physical activity, contributes to the rising rates of obesity amongst children. Obesity is a complex condition and can cause unhappiness due to the stigma. The children most at risk of all of the above are those from families living on a low income.
Mother and Food and Health Promotion Officer in Gloucestershire
"How can several parts of government be trying to improve people's diets while the BBC is helping to promote salt, sugar and fat - and to children as well, when the ill-effects of a poor diet are becoming alarmingly clear?"
Father of two from E London
"I have always preferred my four year old to watch CBeebies rather than the children's programmes on the commercial channels because of the amount of adverts for unhealthy food to which she is exposed. It would seem there is now little point in making this distinction."
Mother from Shropshire
Email to the BBC:
"On your internet site you promote health food for children and yet you approve of McDonalds using Tweenies character for their 'zero nutrition' meals. I found that very hypocritical and would be interested to receive your explanation on this."
Mother of two from Surrey