Some baby foods rivalling cola for sugar content, dentists say
Baby Steps

YOUR baby's food not being good for them is the last thing you want to think about, because baby food is supposed to be super healthy, right? But the British Dental Association has stoked new worries for parents, warning that obscene levels of sugar in popular baby food pouches are rivalling that found in cola drinks.

In a news release following a market analysis by the association of 109 pouches aimed at children aged under 12 months in May-June 2022, the association said that despite widespread claims of 'no added sugar' in these products, as far as teeth are concerned, there's little to no difference if the sugar is added or naturally occurring.

The research showed that over a quarter of the baby foods contained more sugar by volume than cola, with parents of infants as young as four months being marketed pouches that contain the equivalent of up to 150 per cent of the sugar levels of the soft drink. Those pouches are without exception fruit-based mixes.

'Boutique' brands appear to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own brand alternatives, the association noted. While high levels of 'natural' sugar have been described by manufacturers as inevitable with fruit-based pouches, some brands offer products based on similar ingredients that contain around half the levels of sugar of the worst offenders.

Some products examined aimed at four months plus contain up to two thirds of an adult's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar. Neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition cite an RDA for children, simply stressing that as little should be consumed as possible, the association said.

Both UK and WHO guidance recommends weaning from six months old, so no products should be allowed to be marketed as 'four months plus'. Nearly 40 per cent of products examined were marketed at this age group.

"The sector has consistently adopted disingenuous language highlighting the presence of only 'naturally occurring sugars' or the absence of 'added sugars', with others making opaque claims of products being 'nutritionally approved' or in line with infants' 'nutritional and developmental needs'," the release said. "All high sugar products adopt 'halo labelling' principles, focusing on status as 'organic', 'high in fibre' or 'containing one of your five a day', misleading parents into thinking they are making healthy choices."

These pouches have surged in popularity among parents, owing to their convenience. Beyond encouraging a preference for sweet tastes — which carries lifelong health risks — the association warned that they also carry oral health risks when compared to foods available via jars. Contents are often sucked directly from the pouch, ensuring the food spends more time in contact with baby teeth, just as they are erupting, and putting teeth at risk of erosion and decay.

The association has lamented the lack of clear messages from manufacturers not to consume products straight from the pouch in both packaging and their wider marketing collateral.

"Disingenuous marketeers are giving parents the impression they are making a healthy choice with these pouches. Nothing could be further from the truth," British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said. "Claims of 'no added sugar' are meaningless when moms and dads end up delivering the lion's share of a can of cola to their infants."

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