Popular snack bars designed for kids’ lunchboxes have been labelled as bad as sweet biscuits and chocolate.

Junk food critics claim food companies are conning parents over treats loaded with sugar that risk rotting teeth.

A Parents Jury review of 21 snack bars has declared none suitable for everyday lunchboxes. Versions of Kellogg’s LCMs, Nature’s Way Kids Smart bars and Nestle Milo bars were named the worst offenders in the study of marketing claims versus nutritional value. Key school canteen organisations also came under fire for approving at least one shamed product.

Prominent nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton said snack bars were often “glorified confectionery” that should only be occasionally eaten when children had access to a toothbrush. Many mothers had been fooled into thinking they had to prove their love by supplying treats daily instead of once or twice a week.

Dr Stanton said dental decay was on the rise among children, despite water fluoridation, because of constant snacking and sugary drinks. The Parents Jury, which has more than 4000 online forum members promoting children’s health, condemned the LCMs “sure fire lunch box hit” message when it contained more fat, sugar and salt than a snack size Milky Way chocolate bar.

Chocolate Kids Snack Bars came under fire for being sold in health food aisles despite containing more saturated fat than an Arnott’s Iced Vovo biscuit. Milo bars, which boast an “approved for schools” stamp on packs, were dismissed as “by no means a nutritious choice for kids and teens”. Mt Eliza mother of six Shannon Anastasio’s children get fruit, vegetables, yoghurt or a homemade slice rather than bars. “I won’t buy them, but I think a lot of parents are so busy they don’t read labels properly. If the marketing didn’t work, these big companies wouldn’t do it,” Ms Anastasio said.

Nestle spokeswoman Fran Hernon said Milo cereal bars were reformulated to meet Federation of Canteens in Schools and Healthy Kids School Canteen Association guidelines for occasional foods. “Parents should not be made to feel guilty by occasionally giving their child a Milo bar, which interestingly has approximately the same kj content as an apple,” Ms Hernon said.

Kellogg’s Australia spokeswoman Rebecca Boustead said companies were progressively reducing sugar and salt and increasing fibre in foods. Parents could easily view LCMs nutrition details on the front of boxes.

Nature’s Way senior brand manager Matt Cowdroy said Kids Smartbars were more nutritious than many mainstream snack bars.

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