Industry rejects ‘under the radar’ school ad claims

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Food manufacturers providing schools with dietary information and ‘education packs’ have come under fire this week in the UK, though the industry insists the strategy is not misleading consumers and can be beneficial.

The UK-based industry trade body, the Food and Drinks Federation (FDF), told that while it does provide independently verified dietary information online to assist parents and educators, it does not directly supply it to schools.

The comments follow criticisms from the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC), an organisation of health and education groups, that suggested some manufacturers across the dairy, food and beverage industries are potentially using the education packs as a form of ‘undercover’ marketing.

Richard Watts, campaign coordinator for the CFC told that one such school pack that played up the ‘many nutrients’ on offer from cheese on toast without the need for moderate consumption was an example of the type of material reaching schools.

Watts claimed that in some cases, processors from bread makers to soft drink producers also provided ‘partial’ dietary information to play up the healthy image of their products.

Government support

As part of its latest campaign, the organisation said it was now petitioning the UK Parliament to enact a mandatory independent review of any such information packs before they can be sent onto schools.

Watts said that, on a personal level, he saw no benefit to schools using the packs compared to the dietary information already supplied by official food safety and nutrition authorities in the country.

FDF view

Food makers have rejected the criticisms though.

The FDF claimed that as part of its Food Fitness initiative, which is designed to encourage greater physical activity and healthy eating in children, it did provide some information for consumers on its website, though it had not sent any of its literature to schools for some years.

A spokesperson for the group said that although the information provided on its sites was conducted on behalf of its members, it was approved by independent experts.

“As part of the Food Fitness focus, we created an independent advisory panel to provide nutritional advice,”​ said the spokesperson. “While the information made available is online to consumers and school boards, we are not proactively pushing them onto educators.”

The UK-based Dairy Council, which represents manufacturers within the industry, backed the FDF’s comments, claiming it too did not routinely supply its own literature to schools directly. The group said that its literature was mostly distributed by third parties like health professionals.

Council director and registered nutritionist Dr Judith Bryans said that all information passed on by the group were based on scientific evidence and government guidelines such as its three dairy products a-day message.

“Although it can be obtained from other sources, one of the easiest ways to meet one’s daily requirement is to eat three portions of dairy foods each day (Three-A-Day) – milk, cheese and yogurt,” ​she stated.

“The portions of dairy required to meet daily calcium needs have been calculated using the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for calcium from the Department of Health COMA report (1991) and the food tables in The Composition of Foods 6th edition, compiled by the Food Standards Agency.”

Bryans added that educating school children about healthy eating was extremely important for their health and the food industry could help provide this.

If there is a lack of literature available within the school curriculum, industry created literature can help fill this need, provided that the advice is based on government guidelines and scientific evidence”, ​she said.

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