Bite Back Report: Hidden Sugar – Misleading Labels

Health & Hygiene
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Bite Back 2030 reports on the truth behind the “healthy” labelling of foods

“Companies are spending billions on brilliant and deliberately misleading marketing that promotes unhealthy foods to young people.”

New report from Bite Back 2030 [1] calls out the use of dishonest health claims on High Fat, Salt, Sugar Foods (HFSS) targeted at teens. For years dentists have been warning about the effects of high sugar content on oral health, this report highlights the situation regarding so-called ‘healthy’ products

A spokesperson explains.

New findings released today (22nd October) by the youth-led Bite Back 2030 movement have exposed the powerful, deliberate and dishonest marketing tactics employed by the food & drinks industry to encourage teens to eat unhealthy products in ever-increasing quantities.

And the tactics appear to be working with one in two saying they are influenced by health claims on products and 73% of teens believing they are eating healthily.

At a time when the oral and systemic health of one in three children is at risk from being overweight or obese, and oral health is threatened by limited access to regular dental treatment, Bite Back 2030 is calling on the Government to introduce regulation to end the use of health and nutrition claims on products high in either (saturated) fat, salt or sugar; along with consistent portion sizing and reformulation across categories.

Don’t Hide What's Inside explored the eating habits of a thousand 13-18-year-olds in the UK and examined the impact packaging claims have on their perception of ‘health’. The research reveals just how difficult brands are making it for young people to understand exactly what they are eating.

In partnership with researchers from Livity and Action on Sugar, Bite Back 2030 assessed what teens eat in a ‘typical’ day and identified the true nutritional content of over 500 ‘health halo’ food & drink products. They then analysed how ‘healthy’ young people perceive these products to be, and why.

The results were truly shocking: half of respondents agreed that so called health and nutrition messaging on ads, packaging and menus makes them more likely to purchase a product.

The research revealed:

● 57% of all products surveyed are HFSS and would receive a red colour-coded nutritional information label
● 62% of all drink products were considered ‘dangerously’ high in sugar
● Less than 6% of products are meeting regulatory health guidelines on free sugar

Regulatory guidance is clear; a nutritional claim should state, suggest or imply that a food has beneficial nutritional properties, such as ‘no added sugar’, and a health claim should show the true relationship between food and health such as ‘Vitamin C to increase iron absorption’.

Neither of these claims should be used to encourage or condone excess consumption, yet Bite Back 2030's research shows that manufacturers are deliberately misleading consumers to believe it’s healthy to eat products in quantities exceed dietary guidance.

The following demonstrate the truth behind the labelling:


Almost 9 in 10 young people think smoothies are healthy, but 76% of juices and smoothies would receive a red traffic light label. A typical smoothie contains 83% of a teen or adult daily allowance of free sugars.

For example: Innocent Strawberries & Bananas 250ml contains a whopping six teaspoons of sugar per bottle but there is no traffic light label on the front to alert consumers. Yet it is marketed as ‘Enjoy as part of a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. A source of Vitamin C which contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Never added sugar.’

Cereal bars.

8 in 10 young people are led to believe cereal bars are healthy, but in fact 81% would get a red traffic light label. For example: Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Raisin (box of 6 bars) – each 45g bar contains 4.5 teaspoons of sugar, which is ignored. Instead, the product is marketed as ‘Nutri-Grain’ – Vitamin B12 contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Source of iron.


9 in 10 young people think yoghurts are healthy, but 35% of the flavoured yoghurts teens are eating would get a red traffic light label. For example: Muller Corner Vanilla Chocolate Balls – each 130g pot has over 5 teaspoons of sugar and 4g of saturates, yet it is marketed as having ‘no artificial preservatives, sweeteners or colours’ and as a 'Source of Protein and Calcium.’

Jacob Rosenbeg (aged 17) a campaigner for Bite Back says: “It should be easy for all of us to eat healthily; it isn't. Using health claims is just another example of how the system is rigged against us. It seems crazy that regulators have the power to dictate what information must be listed on packaging, but they don't control how foods are branded and promoted.

“Companies are spending billions on brilliant and deliberately misleading marketing that promotes unhealthy foods to young people. We can and must change that, and protect the health and futures of millions of children. We want companies to step up and be honest with us about the food we eat.”

Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Salt, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, adds: “It is morally indefensible for manufacturers to mislead shoppers into buying and eating food that looks healthy on the outside of the packet, when it isn’t healthy on the inside. We are in an epidemic of childhood obesity, and we support Bite Back 2030’s call that this practice must end now.”

For more information about Bite Back 2030, go to 

1]  A mixed method of qualitative and quantitative techniques were used to form this research. In addition, Action on Sugar analysed the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) and food categories included in the Tackling Obesity advertising policy.