The Glasgow-based researchers found few of the 479 shop-bought products tested from the brands Cow & Gate, Heinz, Boots, Hipp Organic, Ella's Kitchen and Organix were up to scratch in providing what babies need in the weaning stage.
The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood aimed to provide an overview of commercial infant foods available in the UK for taste, texture and nutritional content in terms of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fat, sugar, iron, sodium and calcium for health professionals often asked for advice on the issue.
“Complementary solids are recommended from age six months, in order to move an infant from a milk-based diet to a family foods-based diet, thus introducing flavour, texture and diverse nutrient dense foods to the diet,” the researchers explained. However the study found that 44% of the products were aimed at infants from four months.
Anna Rosier, managing director at Organix- one of the two smaller, organic firms looked at- responded: “We support that breastfeeding to six months is the ideal form of first nutrition and ensure all of our stage 1 packaging contains the WHO guidelines. We are also aware that some parents decide to wean their little ones before then, so to support these parents we make it clear what foods could be suitable.”
“All of our foods are complementary to breastfeeding, and we adhere to the regulations for complementary foods for babies. We do not make foods with the purpose to replace breast milk as the primary source of nutrition before 6 months,” Rosier told FoodNavigator.
In terms of nutrition the study found that the average energy content of ready-made spoonable foods was 282 kJ per 100 g, almost identical to breast milk (283 kJ per 100 g) meaning there would not be nutritional progression. Similar spoonable family foods were more nutrient dense than commercial foods, while commercial finger foods were more energy dense, but had very high sugar content.
Rosier told FoodNavigator: “We do not fortify our foods with vitamins and minerals (unless required to by EU Food Regulations) as the fortification of food is not permitted under Organic rules."
The researchers also warned that that children weaned on these products could develop unhealthy, sweet tooth habits in the future since 65% of the products were sweet. This could mean that children are not being exposed to a wide range of tastes and textures after breast milk, as is the intention of this feeding phase.
In response to the findings, Nigel Dickie, director of corporate and government affairs at Heinz, told FoodNavigator: “Generations of parents have trusted Heinz baby foods as safe and nourishing and which are specially prepared to meet babies’ nutritional needs with recipes that provide the right tastes and textures.”
According to the research a 2010 survey showed that 2/3 mothers gave commercial products (predominantly baby rice) as their first solid food, and 45% of mothers of babies aged 8–10 months were still using commercially prepared foods at least once a day.
Source: Archives of Disease in Childhood
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1136/archdischild-2012-303386
“Nutritional content of infant commercial weaning foods in the UK”
Authors: AL García, S Raza, A Parrett and CM Wright