Health and nutrition claims on snacks for children are “confusing” and potentially misleading, according to a study.
Two in five products marketed at children over the age of one were found to be “less healthy”.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of products that claimed to contain one of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables did not.
A total of 332 products – including cereals, fruit snacks, fruit-based drinks, ready meals and dairy products – were analysed as part of the study.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow have warned claims on labels risk creating a false impression of some foods, such as those high in sugar.
The study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, focused on products marketed at children using cartoons, toys and promotions – as well as those which made claims such as “one of your five a day”.
One portion of fruit and vegetables equates to 80g or 150ml for an adult – and 75% of products failed to meet this threshold.
There is no exact portion size recommended for children, but 62% did not even contain a 40g half-adult portion of fruit and vegetables.
The study said: “Prepacked foods targeted to children can be consumed as part of a ‘healthy’ diet, yet their health and nutrition claims remain questionable.
“Given the current rising rates of childhood obesity, the consumption of less healthy foods may have long-term negative implications on child health.”
Dr Max Davie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the findings were “concerning”.
He said: “It is essential that parents and children know precisely what is in the products they consume and are not misled by manipulative marketing campaigns.
“It is clear that families are being influenced by surreptitious food packaging, and we strongly support the researchers’ call for stricter regulations on composition and labelling.”