Baby food needs clearer labelling

Author: Ingrid Torjesen
Baby food needs clearer labelling

Commercial baby food and drink products are failing to fufill the recommended national feeding advice criteria and their labelling needs to be improved, a review from Public Health England (PHE) has found.

The report Foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children: evidence and opportunities for action says there are clear inconsistencies between national infant feeding advice and how some commercial baby food and drink products are presented.

In particular, some foods marketed as healthy snacks are amongst those with the highest sugar content, it says, and high sugar snacking is being encouraged.

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, the report says, because some can contain as much sugar as confectionary. However, 11% growth in the finger food/snacking market between 2017 and 2018 indicates that these foods are increasingly considered an expected and appropriate part of an infant’s diet.

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

Product labelling also needs to be improved the document adds, some product names not reflecting the balance of ingredients, products do not always provide clear feeding instructions and misleading product labelling and marketing encourages the introduction of solid food before official advice recommends.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said the report showed that 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.”

To promote 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, and 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, and prioritising consumer awareness campaigns around early years feeding.