House of Lords Inquiry

Bite Back activists launch report exposing big businesses' manipulation of children through the packaging of unhealthy foods

  • Inquiry marks the first-ever parliamentary youth panel of its kind to discuss issues concerning the UK's food system
  • The vast majority (78%) of foods with packaging that appeals to children is unhealthy
  • 67% of products that featured a character on pack were unhealthy while 78% of unusually shaped and/or flavoured products were unhealthy.
  • For photography, download here.
  • Mondelez International - the owner of popular brands such as Cadbury, Oreo, Milka Chocolate, and Dairylea - was the one of the worst offenders. Of their 58 products deemed appealing to children, all were unhealthy.

London/Westminster, UK — A group of Bite Back young activists will this morning (Thursday 2 May) present their insights and experiences to the House of Lords Food, Diet and Obesity Committee. Taking the occasion to launch Bite Back’s latest report on junk food marketing, the three activists will mark the first-ever youth panel to address junk food marketing and the UK’s flawed food system.

The new report lifts the lid off the sugary cookie jar of big food companies’ tactics, revealing how some businesses are using child-appealing packaging to push unhealthy products to children. Bite Back surveyed products sold in the UK by the ten largest food and drink businesses. The findings — which were verified and analysed by nutrition experts from Action on Salt — show that the vast majority of products with child-appealing packaging are unhealthy. Out of 262 food products surveyed, an overwhelming 78% (204) were found to be unhealthy.

According to the report, offenders include Kinder Surprise, M&M's, Randoms, and Monster Munch Giants — all hiding behind colourful, child-appealing wrappers while stuffing their products with sugar and fat. Entitled Fuel Us, Don't Fool Us: Sweet Deception — Are Food Giants Using Child-Appealing Tactics Responsibly?, the report sheds light on the pervasive use of child-appealing packaging by major food corporations and its detrimental impact on children's health.

Vin 15, a Bite Back youth activist, said: “Today is a great opportunity for politicians and decision-makers to hear the real challenges we as young people face directly from Bite Back youth activists in the House of Lords.

"When I go to a shop with my little sister, she goes straight for the bright packaging, for products with characters and colours, and of course, they’re the unhealthy products. It annoys me that companies use these tactics to attract children to buy their products and personify unhealthy products to make them more appealing. Cartoon characters on packaging correspond with adverts on TV and social media, so you see a friendly character on TV and then of course you want a product that has the same friendly character on the packaging,” he added.

Bite Back analysed the front-of-packs of food sold by the biggest global food companies operating in the UK to take a closer look at how many of their products that use child-appealing packaging are unhealthy. The most common tactic these companies used was visuals such as bright colours and fun patterns and lettering that attract children’s attention. This technique was found on 80% (164/204) of the products that are also unhealthy. This was followed by products with unusual shapes and/ or flavours which was found on 59% (120/204) of unhealthy products.

How much sugar is REALLY lurking in popular snacks?

  • Ferrero: Tic Tacs Fruit Adventure neon coloured sweets are more than 90% sugar (91.1g sugar, per 100g). One 18g pack contains 16g of sugar — nearly 70% of a 7-10 year old child’s recommended daily free sugar limit.
  • Mondelez: Maynards Bassetts Fizzy Fish Jellies These fish shaped sweets are three quarters sugar (76g sugar per 100g). The recommended serving size of just 4 sweets provides 20g of sugar — more than the recommended free sugar limit for 4-6 year old children.
  • Mars: Skittles Fruits Giants Chewy Candies are brightly coloured sweets that are three quarters sugar (76g sugar per 100g). The recommended portion size of a third of a pack contains 33g of sugar which is more than an adult’s recommended daily limit of 30g per day.
  • Nestlé: Rowntree's Randoms Ice Cream. These ice cream shaped sweets feature a joke-telling polar bear on the pack. At 68 g sugar per 100g, a recommended serving of 5 sweets is half a 7-10 year olds recommended daily free sugar limit.

More examples upon request.

Chef, campaigner and Bite Back co-founder, Jamie Oliver said: “Once again, Bite Back exposes how brands are actively using marketing tactics to target children. Whether it's through fun characters, bright images or exciting new shapes, these switched-on companies are choosing them because they know they will capture young minds. We see this trick being used in supermarket aisles, on our high streets, and online, and is yet another way companies are bombarding kids with unhealthy junk food.”

Mondelez International — the maker of billion-dollar brands such as Cadbury, Oreo, Milka Chocolate, and Dairylea, emerged as one of the worst offenders. All 58 products deemed appealing to children are unhealthy. Similarly, 100% of child-appealing products from brands owned by chocolates-maker, Ferrero, were found to be unhealthy, although they had far fewer child appealing products overall at 22. Nestlé - the world's largest food and beverage company - had the highest number of child-appealing products (59) with 56% of these classified as unhealthy.

The survey did find examples of more responsible actions from the businesses included, for example just one child-appealing product from Kraft Heinz met the unhealthy criteria and none from Danone did.

Sonia Pombo, a registered nutritionist and campaign lead for Action on Salt, said, “It's unethical for businesses to exploit our youngsters and market foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar, to them. Parents shouldn't bear the blame for assuming these products are intended for child consumption — after all, why else would they feature characters close to children’s hearts?

“Businesses have a moral obligation to prioritise children's well-being over profits, and there's ample opportunity for them to do just that, either by promoting healthier options or enhancing the nutritional value of their current products. But if they aren’t willing to do so voluntarily, then the government must intervene,” Pombo added.

Former footballer and The Turmeric Co. founder Thomas ‘Hal’ Robson-Kanu, said: "It's deeply concerning to see big companies leveraging child-appealing packaging to push unhealthy products onto our youngest consumers. These tactics are not only deceptive but also harmful, as they contribute to the rising rates of childhood obesity and related health issues.

“I believe businesses have a responsibility to protect children from these sinister marketing strategies and ensure they have access to nutritious food options. I fully support Bite Back's efforts to hold these companies accountable and advocate for stricter regulations to safeguard our children's health and well-being," the former Wales international and Reading Football Club striker explained.

In February 2024, Bite Back published an investigation of the 10 biggest global food and drink businesses operating in the UK with research from the University of Oxford. That report (Are food giants rigging the system against child health?) – revealed that 7 in 10 of the top global food giants make at least two thirds (68%) of their packaged food and drink sales in the UK from unhealthy products.

James Toop, Bite Back CEO, said: “Young people are today calling on the House of Lords committee to push forward comprehensive measures to address the impact of junk food marketing and its effects on the country’s health system. Food businesses and the government hold the levers of change and need to take action now if they want to be on the right side of history.

“Young people want businesses to remove child-appealing features from packaging of unhealthy products. In the same vein, the government needs to introduce new regulations to restrict these sinister tactics by junk food giants as we are sleepwalking into a preventable health crisis. Right now, one in three children are at risk of a future of food-related illness. We know attractive and appealing packaging of food and drink products is a core element of the marketing mix that directly influences what we decide to buy. It’s a particularly effective tactic when it comes to targeting children, with lots of research showing its power to influence children’s taste and product preferences. But across the world, the majority of food with child-appealing packaging tends to be nutrient poor. Other countries – such as Chile and Mexico — have taken action,” Toop added.


For more information

Henry Makiwa on / 07523681057

Notes to editors

  • To request a copy of the report, please contact Henry Makiwa ( / 07523681057) or download a copy on our website.
  • The House of Lords Committee on Food, Diet and Obesity is conducting an inquiry into the role of ultra-processed foods and foods high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) in a healthy diet and obesity. The committee aims to assess the impact of these foods on health outcomes, changes in behaviours, and the effectiveness of government policies. Additionally, it will evaluate the role of the food and beverage industry in the public health landscape.
  • Members of the committee expected to be present include: Baroness Walmsley; Baroness Boycott; Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe; Lord Colgrain; Baroness Jenkin of Kennington; Lord Krebs, among others.