By Belinda MacDougall,,au

I’m sick of being swindled at the supermarket. I’m tired of being mislead to by giant food companies. And you should be, too. It’s killing our kids. And it’s time we did something about it.

In a terrifying new report from The Obesity Collective, researchers found more than 25 per cent of our children — or more than 1.2 million kids over the age of two — are now officially overweight, with almost 400,000 of those classified as obese.

It’s nothing short of a major health crisis, and it’s one that’s getting worse. The number of children officially classed as obese has grown by 60 per cent since 2011.

And yes, there are lots of likely causes. But one of the key problems in this country is that, as we all grow more time-poor, we turn to the convenience of ready-made meals and allegedly healthy snacks to feed our families, only to discover we’re pumping our children full of sugar without ever realising it.

As any working mum will tell you, time is always in short supply when it comes to balancing work commitments with school runs and sports carnivals, and so there will be times when you and your partner are simply too run off your feet to whip up healthy and nutritious food at home.

And it’s at times like these we rely on the honestly of these companies promoting products that promise “less sugar” or “all-natural ingredients”, thinking that we’re making the right decisions for our families.

Where do we find these products? In the “healthy” aisle of our local supermarket, of course. The big health-food companies heard us — we want healthier, more convenient products. But what did they do? They repackaged and rebranded their sugar-filled products without changing the ingredients at all.

You might be shocked to find that the “health” aisle is actually anything but, and is in fact stuffed with products that are packed with sugar, chemicals and other nasties, but that masquerade as nutritious snacks.

In fact, many foods stocking our health aisle have more sugar in a single serve then the World Health Organisation recommends in a whole day.

How did it go so wrong?

Take Sanatorium’s UP&GO, for example. The packaging tells you it’s a liquid breakfast with a 4.5-star health rating that offers “the right kind of energy”, along with protein and fibre.

What it doesn’t tell you, however, is that it contains 19.3 grams of sugar in every 250ml serving. That makes it only marginally better (26.5g/250ml) than serving your kids a can of Coca-Cola for breakfast from a sugar standpoint.

Or even that box of Nutri-Grain, the one with all those healthy iron men on the packaging, that actually serves up a whopping 26.7 grams of sugar per 100 grams of cereal? Yet Nutri-Grain proudly wears a four-star health rating on the front of its box.

The World Health Organisation recommend no more than six teaspoons of sugar (25 grams) per day. Nutri-Grain on the front promotes itself as a “one of the highest Protein Cereals” but it contains more sugar than protein per serve!

The truth is, there’s almost no oversight on these products, and seemingly nobody to police these misleading claims made by the food giants.

Instead, we live in a world where billions of marketing dollars are spent on clever colours and tricky names used to disguise the nasties lurking in supposedly healthy food. Now imagine if all that money was instead spent on making food healthier, rather than simply looking healthier.

How many times have you seen a label that reads “30 per cent less sugar”, but never wondered; 30 per cent less than what? Or that something is “99 per cent fat-free”, but is for some reason missing the label that says “but packed to overflowing with sugar”.

The point is, we can’t trust our “health foods” to be healthy, because most of the companies behind them can’t be trusted to tell us the truth. And they won’t, until we make them.

So I’m calling on families everywhere to get behind this movement, so we can make a change for the better. We need stricter advertising and packaging standards that actually tell you what is in a product, rather than requiring a science PHD to figure it all out. We need health-food aisles that are actually healthy. And we need to hold the companies that are misleading us to account.

And it’s easy. We need plain-language packaging that, rather than a confusing health rating and a handful of bogus claims, instead has a simple, easy-to-read sticker that tells shoppers exactly how many teaspoons of sugar is in each product.

Would you be so quick to buy that UP&GO if, rather than a 4.5-star health rating, it had sticker that read “4.5 teaspoons of sugar”?

We also need our supermarkets to enforce simple food standards; if a product isn’t healthy, then it can’t be sold in a healthy section. In fact, some of the foods are so sugar-filled they should be sold as confectionery.

Because a healthy family begins at the supermarket. And it’s time we knew exactly what we’re feeding our kids.

Belinda MacDougall is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.

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