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Paediatricians and dentists call for limits on sugar and salt in baby foods

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling on the UK Government to finally implement mandatory guidelines on the amount of sugar and salt that baby food can contain.

Infant child eats with a spoon. Copyright: Oksana Kuzmina | shutterstock

Infant child eats with a spoon. Copyright: Oksana Kuzmina | shutterstock

Earlier in December, the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities published a report showing that voluntary measures by industry to reduce sugar content in certain foods by 20% had failed to meet its target.

However, when the initiative started in 2016, the Government did not include baby and toddler foods. Instead, the Government released draft commercial baby food and drink guidelines for consultation in 2020. Unfortunately, these guidelines have not been followed up and there are no limits or restrictions on how much sugar and salt can be in these products. Obesity rates and tooth decay in children starting school continue to be high.

 Research conducted by the British Dental Association shows that many baby food pouches, which are aimed at infants under 12 months old, can contain more sugar by volume than Coca-Cola, and some have up to two thirds of an adult's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar. This is despite the fact that the WHO recommends infants have minimal to no sugars in their diet.

One in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, with children living in the most deprived areas twice as likely to be living with obesity than those living in the least deprived areas. This increase in obesity is already leading to more cases of type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure in children. The impact of nutrition on oral health is also significant, with tooth decay as the most common reason for hospital admission among children aged five to nine for the past four years.

 RCPCH President, Dr Camilla Kingdon said:

 It’s a national disgrace that there is currently zero guidance on the salt and sugar levels in products aimed at infants, who are in a critical stage of their development. All paediatricians know that good nutrition is the foundation of good health and wellbeing, and that this foundation starts being built from infancy. Families also know this and want the best for their children, but the task of providing a healthy and balanced diet is not always an easy one – especially these days with the price of food sky high.

"In my own practice, I see parents of very small and vulnerable babies buy baby food pouches and pots with the assumption that they are giving their children the best start they can. The marketing strategies used on these parents are highly effective, with buzzwords such as ‘all organic’, ‘natural sugars’ and ‘nutritionally approved’. At best this disingenuous, at worst dangerous.

She continued: "We cannot rely on the food industry to provide infants with good nutrition without adequate regulation in place."

 

Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of Sustain responded:

“There is simply no justification for industry producing baby food that is more sugary than Coke. We know that what we eat in our early years shape our food preferences for life. A balanced diet from the start can set children on a path to  healthy eating for life and help them avoid dietary related ill health, such as overweight, obesity and diabetes.

“Earlier this month a report revealed that voluntary measures by industry reduced sugar by just 3.5% against a target of 20%. By contrast, the sugary drinks tax led to an overall reduction of 46% in sugar levels, while not affecting the bottom line of the companies. They were able to sell low and no sugar options instead.

"A voluntary programme is clearly not sufficient to shift the dial on sugar consumption – we need mandatory programmes alongside other regulatory measures on marketing and promotion to deliver the change we need to stem the tide of obesity.”

 

British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch added:

"The Government can’t keep kicking this can down the road. Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. Yet Ministers are letting parents be duped into buying foods that can hook their kids to sugar from infancy. Without action here the food industry will continue touting products more sugary than cola as healthy options."

 

You can read our response to the sugar reduction targets missed by the food industry targets here

Published 27 Dec 2022

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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