Convenience foods a threat to kids' health, study shows
Results of recent research carried out by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation warns that more than 90 per cent of pre-packed convenience foods have excessive levels of sugar, fat and sodium, which could lead to diabetes, hypertension and obesity in children.
Several types of snacks are displayed at yesterday’s press conference held by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation on its latest research study – ‘The Harmful Effects of Snacks on Kids’ Health’.
Dr Prapaisri Sirichakwal of Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition said yesterday she had carried out a study on more than 700 samples of packaged convenience foods and found 90
per cent of them had minimal nutritional value and excessive sugar, fat or sodium levels. Dr Prapaisri also works for ThaiHealth's anti-sweets children's network.
"We found that children who eat these snacks consume three to four times the recommended daily amount of sodium," she said, adding that excessive sodium can cause hypertension.
"A child should not eat more than one small pack of snacks a day," she said.
The research also found that only a third of the foods studied featured labels listing their ingredients or proper nutritional information. It added that those featuring nutritional labels also tended to use small fonts and present the information in a way that is difficult to understand. Dr Prapaisri said she has been developing nutritional labels, which use symbols that are easy for consumers to understand.
Dr Jittiwat Suprasongsin from the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital, said it is easy for children to become addicted to sweets because their consumption can affect the nervous system and trigger further cravings.
Obesity levels among children are at a worrying level with research reporting that 20 per cent of all children suffer from the condition, and at least half of those suffer from health problems such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels or high cholesterol, he said.
"I have no idea how the Bt30-scheme will be able to deal with the burden this will put on it in terms of the increase in patient numbers in the future," the doctor said.
He said there has also been an increase in the number of children who suffer from type II diabetes, a disease previously found exclusively in adults, with their youngest patient being just three years old.
Dr Jittiwat said 20 per cent of children with diabetes had already showed signs of associated complications such as kidney problems.
"What is particularly worrying is that there are about 100,000 new cases of childhood diabetes reported every couple of years," he said.
Dr Sirikiat Leangkobkit of the Thai HealthPromotion Foundation said the Food and Drug Administration should require all convenience foods to carry clear and concise nutritional information on its packaging.
He said advertising of convenience foods should be more rigidly controlled, as research carried out last year found snack manufacturers' annual advertising budgets were as high as Bt1.1 billion, with most of that going on television.
"We found there were about 132 instances of advertising for convenience foods per hour throughout the cartoon programmes in the school holidays," he said.