Do parents really hold the power?

22 July 2020

Parents are often told that they have full authority over their children’s diets – an argument used by many who oppose policy changes to the food environment, such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. However, with the food industry and retailers continuing to legally market HFSS products to children, is it really that straightforward?


Last week, Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active, with support from Guy’s & St Thomas Charity published their new report “Pester Power or Parent Power?” which asked 942 UK parents for their views of child-friendly characters on food and drink packaging, the use of which is not currently regulated in the UK. Here’s what they found:

Parents and children are guided by different purchasing factors

Parents say they are influenced by price and branding, whereas they felt their children were more influenced by child-friendly packaging, in particular those displaying well-known and loved characters such as Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol.

There are many types of products which use child-friendly characters on their packaging

The conversation is often focussed around breakfast cereals, but parents highlighted the wealth of products that use child-friendly characters, including yoghurts, frozen products, spaghetti shapes and juice. Earlier this year, supermarket chains Aldi, Lidl and Asda led the way in removing all child-friendly packaging from their own-brand breakfast cereals. While this was a great start, it is now apparent that this would have a larger impact if extended to other products highlighted by parents.

Child-friendly characters have an impact on children’s food/brand preferences and eating habits

There is a wealth of evidence that supports that licensed characters influence children’s food and drink preferences and tastes. We have highlighted some of this in our Advertising, Marketing and Obesity briefing. The current report found that 91% of children ask for the product with characters and 61% ask for the brands associated with the character. 53% eat the products, while 33% refuse to eat or drink other options.

Parents saw child-friendly characters as a barrier to healthy eating

Two thirds of parents think that such characters on packaging makes it more difficult to feed their children a healthy diet.

Parents felt using these characters on HFSS food and drink was not appropriate

Two thirds of parents strongly disagreed that it was appropriate to use these characters on HFSS products, however, parents did feel that there was a place for them on “one-off” items for special occasions, such as on birthday cake. Interestingly, there was some appetite from parents for using these on healthier products, with almost half of parents strongly agreeing that child-friendly characters should be used to promote fruit and vegetables.

Overall, the report shows that the parents surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that the use of cartoon characters on packaging promoting HFSS products to children should not continue. Parents accept responsibility, with the majority strongly agreeing or agreeing that ‘parents should just say no’; however, they also want to see the food and marketing industry and the Government playing their roles in supporting this.

Read the full report, including recommendations for Government and Industry, here.