Baby food industry needs better products and clearer labelling

Public Health England (PHE) publishes an evidence review of commercially available baby foods and drinks aimed at children up to 36 months.

 

The main findings of the report Foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children: evidence and opportunities for action show clear inconsistencies between national infant feeding advice and how some commercial baby food and drink products are presented:

 

  • some foods marketed as healthy snacks are amongst those with the highest sugar content

 

  • sweet snacking is being encouraged

 

  • misleading product labelling and marketing encourages the introduction of solid food before official advice recommends

 

  • some product names don’t reflect the balance of ingredients

 

  • products do not always provide clear feeding instructions

 

Snacking foods account for more than one third (34.5%) of the total market, and the highest sugar content is found in processed dried fruit snacks which shouldn’t be marketed as suitable for children to eat between meals. Growth in the finger food/snacking market, by 11% in 2017 to 2018, indicates that these foods are increasingly considered an expected and appropriate part of an infant’s diet. However, some sweet snacks, can contain as much sugar as confectionery. The highest sugar levels are seen in fruit and vegetable-based (47.5g), and sweet finger foods (17.0g) per 100g.

 

Of the 1,120 baby food and drink products reviewed for the report, more than 1 in 4 (28.1%) are targeted at 4 month olds despite advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) that introducing solid foods should not happen until around 6 months of age.

 

To push change in the products, the review recommends that the food industry and government:

 

  • improves the nutrient content of products

 

  • ensures clear, consistent and honest labelling and marketing of products

 

  • ensures that products high in sugars are labelled as not being suitable for eating between meals

 

  • restricts the use of implied health claims on baby food products

 

It also recommends:

 

  • putting in place a recurring survey of early years feeding practices to further the evidence base

 

  • prioritising consumer awareness campaigns around early years feeding

 

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said:

 

“This shows the food industry could do more to support parents in making the best food choices for their children. Snacking and sweet foods are being promoted while parents are being encouraged to introduce solids earlier than recommended.”

 

“Early years feeding is crucial in shaping future taste preferences and healthy habits. With children of all ages consuming too much sugar action is needed to address these practices. The baby and toddler food industry must be careful not to break the trust of parents.”