16 Nov 2022 Guest Blog: Baby + Toddler Breakfast Items – Why so much sugar in a ‘No Added Sugar’ product?
To mark Sugar Awareness Week (14th – 20th November 2022), we are delighted to publish a guest blog from our friends at Action on Sugar. The charity have recently investigated the nutritional content and packaging of baby and toddler breakfast items. Hidden beneath an array of nutrition and health claims, lies an unsettling truth: the ‘baby aisle’ might not sell the gold standard of food parents think it does.
Introducing a baby into the world of solid foods is an exciting time for many parents, starting with those first few tastes and gradually migrating into 3 meals a day. A healthy varied diet, low in processed foods and high in vitamins and minerals is essential in these early years to shape food preferences and future eating habits, while also helping to prevent overweight, obesity and related illness including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life[i] [ii].
Government recommendations reflect this, stating that when introducing solid foods to infants, single fruit and vegetables should be offered, particularly less sweet options to help develop their palates[iii]. NHS also recommends repeatedly offering a variety of foods to increase acceptance of new flavours and to avoid food and drinks with added salt and sugar[iv].
Despite this, our food system is dominated by processed food and drink high in salt, fat and sugar which are cheap to make and profitable. The nation’s children are paying the price of this as much as adults; sugar-sweetened food and drinks are the main cause of tooth decay in children, with nearly 45,000 hospital operations being performed in August 2020, equivalent to nearly 180 operations a day[v]. The prevalence of children living with obesity doubles from when they start reception (10.1%) to when they leave Year 6 (23.4%)[vi].
Children as young as 1.5-3 are already being exposed to sugars which are damaging to health, with the latest figures suggesting they are getting almost 10% of their energy intake from free sugars, compared to the recommended 5% target for those aged 2+ years and 0% for under 2 year olds[vii] [viii]. The main contributors for free sugars in children aged between 4 to 9 months old was found to be commercial infant foods, in particular fruit-based and cereal-based foods[ix].
As part of Action on Sugar’s wider investigation into these commercial infant foods, we surveyed nearly 100 breakfast products and found sugars content ranged from <0.1g to 14.5g per serve, with ready to eat baby rice, porridge and yogurt-based breakfasts containing higher sugar levels than unprepared baby rice, cereal and porridge.
All of the products surveyed displayed at least one health/nutrition claim, with over three quarters displaying a ‘no added sugar’ or ‘only naturally occurring sugars’ claim. These claims don’t take into account the free sugars present from processed fruit and vegetables, and whilst they are legally allowed to say this, it misleads parents into believing that these products either do not contain sugar, or that the sugars in these products are not harmful.
The baby aisle should be a safe space for parents, and commercial infant foods should provide a convenient, fuss-free way to offer up meals. Instead, infants are being regularly exposed to unnecessarily sweet foods, reinforcing their preference for sweet flavours and increasing the likelihood of a high sugar diet that continues through childhood, adolescence and adulthood[x].
This Sugar Awareness Week, Action on Sugar are calling for the removal of misleading health and nutrition claims on baby and toddler food and drink, and urge the new Health Minister Steve Barclay to publish and mandate the Commercial baby food and drink guidelines. Together, these actions will ensure that the food industry take all of the unnecessary ingredients out of these products, and instead provide products that are best for children and can be truly trusted by parents.
[v] Local Government Association (2020): https://www.local.gov.uk/lga-nearly-180-operationsday-remove-rotten-teeth-children