Sugar campaigner calls for clampdown on ‘misleading’ nutrition and health claims on baby and toddler food

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Sergey Kirsanov
Image: Getty/Sergey Kirsanov

Related tags Sugar Nutrition baby toddler food Health claims

Despite UK government guidance that no added sugars, including those from processed fruit, should be consumed by children up to the age of two years old, new research from Action on Sugar (based at Queen Mary University of London) has revealed what it called the worrying levels of sugars added unnecessarily to breakfast foods intended for babies and toddlers, with some containing four teaspoons of sugar per pouch.

The group is calling on the complete removal of what it called misleading nutrition and health claims on baby and toddler food and drink products and urging the new Health Minister to publish and mandate the overdue commercial baby food and drink guidelines. This will ensure dedicated baby aisles in supermarkets are a ‘safe space’ for parents.

Its analysis of nearly 100 baby and toddler breakfast items sold in stores, found Ella’s Kitchen’s Banana, Apple & Blueberry Baby Rice had the highest sugar per serve, with 14.5g sugars per pouch (equivalent to 4 teaspoons sugar). This was followed by Ella’s Kitchen’s Banana Baby Brekkie (13.6g per serve) and Ella’s Kitchen Bananas, Apricots + Baby Rice (13.5g per serve).

All products surveyed used nutrition or health claims on-pack and over three quarters (86%) used a ‘no added sugar’ or ‘only naturally occurring sugars’ claim.

However, many add sugars in the form of fruit/vegetable juices, concentrates, purees and powders (types of sugars that should be limited) misleading parents/carers into thinking that the product is healthier than it is, the research said. It claimed only one brand, Little Freddie, was responsibly choosing not to use these claims on their products,

In what it described as ‘worrying’, Heinz By Nature Creamed Porridge uses plain sugar as an ingredient yet champions the claims ‘only natural ingredients’ in addition to ‘sugar from a natural source’ which is not listed as a legally permitted claim.

Babease Simply Smooth Avocado Breakfast with Yogurt, Spinach & Oats (3.5g sugars per serve) was the only product in the survey that used vegetables (no additional fruit) as a flavour for their product. This ‘significantly reduces the overall sugars and introduces a less sweet flavour in a market that is otherwise saturated in sweet tasting breakfast products’, the survey said. In addition, by reducing the amount of processed fruit, flavour can be retained but sugars drastically cut by half - HiPP Organic Banana Yogurt Breakfast, sugar content 6.9g/100g uses around 40% less banana than Ella’s Kitchen Banana Baby Brekkie, 13.6g/100g.

These products are convenient for time strapped parents and carers. But a poll by Action on Sugar, which sampled 1,004 parents with young children, revealed two in three (65%) parents said they are concerned about the levels of sugar in ready-made/pre-packaged baby and toddler breakfast items. Most (87%) agreed it would be useful if the sugars added to baby and infant food, including that of processed fruit, was displayed on front of pack.

All products surveyed used nutrition or health claims on-pack and over three quarters (86%) used a ‘no added sugar’ or ‘only naturally occurring sugars’ claim.

In 2016, the Government challenged the food industry to reduce the overall sugar content of certain food categories by 20% by 2020, but baby and toddler foods were not included in this programme. Instead, the Government released draft commercial baby food and drink guidelines for consultation in 2020 but did not then implement these guidelines.

According to Action on Sugar, the data signals a clear need for robust measures to incentivise the food industry to reduce sugar across a wide range of products, including those marketed for baby and toddlers. The group further claimed that 91% of parents support government action to make sure all food and drinks available in the baby aisle are nutritionally appropriate.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar said:  “It’s a scandal that certain food companies are being allowed to peddle their high sugar products to parents with very young children – despite being aware that babies and toddlers shouldn’t be having any added at all. An unhealthy diet, high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and low in fruit and vegetables, is the biggest cause of death and disability globally and costs the UK alone more than £100 billion annually. Our children should not have to suffer unnecessarily from this. Manufacturers should act responsibly and commit to reducing sugar, salt and calories instead of foisting unhealthy products with misleading nutrition claims upon well-meaning parents."

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