News / Children's Food Campaign

Health experts call for honest labelling on 'healthy' fruit snacks

New research from Action on Sugar exposes the popular 'healthy' fruit snacks that are loaded with free sugars and misleading claims. 

Credit: Action on Sugar

Credit: Action on Sugar

Leading nutritionists and Sustain's member organisation Action on Sugar has launched new research which reveals that so-called ‘HEALTHY’ fruit snacks for children can contain nearly as much as 5 teaspoons of sugars per serving – the equivalent of eating a packet of jelly beans. The organisation is calling for the UK Government to ensure that its current consultation on Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) in the UK results in mandatory FOPL that reflects the latest dietary advice on free sugars (not total sugars). The group is also calling for a ban on the use of misleading claims* such as ‘1 of your 5 a day’, ‘Naturally occurring sugars’ or ‘Made from real fruit’.

  • 65% of products had the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugars or more in just one single portion – the same as eating an iced doughnut

  • 91% of products had NO front of pack traffic light label yet ALL featured claims implying they were ‘healthy'

  • • A whopping 57% of products have more free sugars than Haribo Starmix confectionery per 100g – with one product (Kiddylicious Apple Fruit Wriggles 12g) made of 70% sugars

  • ALL products surveyed would have received a RED traffic light front of pack label for HIGH sugars, meaning they are not a healthy snack choice.

Furthermore, many of these products are wrongly advertised as ‘snacks’ despite guidance that children should not consume these products in between meals, and that they are not permitted in schools because they are categorised as ‘confectionery’.

Processed dried fruit products are marketed as ‘healthy snacks’ due to their high fruit content. However, the sugars in these products are categorised by Public Health England as ‘free sugars’ as they contain purees, concentrates, juices and extruded** fruit or added sugar by coating or flavouring dried fruit – all of which can contribute to obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and tooth decay.

Graham MacGregor CBE - Chairman of Action on Sugar, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Queen Mary University of London says:

"Whilst the Government gets to grips with the current Covid-19 pandemic, it mustn’t ignore that the situation is fuelling the UK’s other pandemics – obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and tooth decay – all linked to high sugar intakes which the food industry is solely responsible for. It’s imperative that whichever organisation takes over from Public Health England, ensure comprehensive and compulsory reformulation targets are set across the whole of the food industry to gradually reduce the amount of sugar and excess calories in food and drink."

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar says:

“This survey has exposed the huge amounts of sugar in these processed fruit snacks which should all be clearly referenced with mandatory front of pack labelling. Not only does the UK have very high rates of children living with obesity but also record numbers of children suffering from tooth decay which causes excruciating pain and suffering and often results in teeth being extracted. These processed fruit products should not be eaten in between mealtimes, children should be encouraged to snack on whole fruits and vegetables and not excessively sweet products that damage teeth.”

Barbara Crowther, coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign says:

"Parents tell us that claims such as "no added sugar" and "one of your 5 a day" on processed fruit snacks containing significant free sugar levels are incredibly confusing and misleading. These products are carefully branded and also often marketed with cartoon characters to give parents the impression they are suitable and healthy for their children. But this research shows clearly that many of them contain similar levels of free sugars as sweets and biscuits. We strongly support recommendations to make nutritional labels clearer and mandatory, as well as address the use of misleading health claims and child-friendly characters on food and drink packaging."

Vera Zakharov, coordinator of the Sugar Smart Campaign says:

"Research shows that snacking among children has increased as a result of lockdown. Meanwhile, community and school engagement on healthy eating has been severely affected as a result of restrictions. We must use the momentum of the Obesity Strategy to avert this perfect storm of negative health outcomes for our younger generation. Products that use misleading branding to normalise unhealthy snacking among children are not acceptable. Parents deserve clarity and up to date dietary advice to make the best choices for their children. We hope the Government shows overdue leadership on front of pack labelling."

For more information:

Read the full press release and research findings from Action on Sugar.

Read what parents think of misleading product packaging and use of child-friendly characters in our report Pester Power or Parent Power?   

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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