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Nine out of ten parents in the UK are misled by nutrition labels on children's foods, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

A survey by the foundation published yesterday (20 December) said parents believe claims such as "free from artificial colours and preservatives" and "a source of calcium, iron and six vitamins" mean a product is likely to be healthy.

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the BHF, accused food manufacturers of "pulling the wool over mums' eyes".

"Smoke and mirror tactics means that foods targeted at children and high in fat, salt and sugar are being disguised with partial health claims suggesting they're a healthy choice. Regularly eating these types of foods could have serious implications for kids' future health."

The BHF cited Kellogg's Coco Pops, which promotes itself as "wholegrain" and a product that can "keep your heart healthy and maintain a healthy body". Yet, the heart group claimed, per 100g the products are higher in saturated fat and sugar than the average chocolate cake.

It found that 76% of mothers questioned believed that "wholegrain" means the product is likely to be healthy.

The BHF said an independent review commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) concluded that a single front-of-pack scheme combining traffic light colours, guideline daily amounts and the words "high, medium and low" would be the most helpful to shoppers, but that many food companies are resisting this system of food labelling.

"Partial health claims and the mish mash of food labelling systems serve only to confuse shoppers about the nutritional value of what they're putting in their shopping baskets," Hollins added. "It's time for food companies to stop making excuses, support one system and ensure shoppers are given 'at a glance' information about the foods they're giving their kids."

However, a spokesman for Kellogg UK insisted its labelling is clear.

"A Kellogg's Coco Pops Cereal and Milk bar actually contains less than two teaspoons of sugar per bar and has half the calories (84) and far less fat than a chocolate bar. Parents understand this because we give them the information they need, through our front of pack labelling, to make similar comparisons."

Julian Hunt, FDF's director of communications, said the BHF didn't share its research with them, but that the organisation's press release reads like a "very bad Christmas cracker joke".

"It's short, makes very little sense and left us groaning," Hunt said. "The truth is that the food industry takes its responsibilities seriously."

He added: "The nutrition claims identified by BHF are not 'partial health claims' - they are approved under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, which is setting a strict legal framework for all claims on food packs. To claim otherwise is being completely disingenuous - or shows that the BHF is deliberately trying to mislead both mums and journalists at what is a very busy time for all of us."