So-called “healthy” baby and toddler snacks can contain as much as two teaspoons of unnecessary sugar, despite being sold as a weaning food, a study has found.
Action on Sugar analysed 73 baby sweet snacks and found that, while all featured “healthy sounding” claims on the packaging, more than a third (37%) could receive a red traffic light-style label for sugar content.
Just six products (8%) would have received a green (low) label for sugars.
Currently, baby and children’s food and drink is not required to display traffic light labelling on the front of packs.
The campaign group named the worst offenders as including Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original, with 8.7g of sugars per serving or the equivalent of two teaspoons of sugar, followed by Organix Banana Soft Oaty Bars, which are sweetened with apple juice concentrate and contained 8.1g of sugars per serving.
Five Kiddylicious products scored the worst for sugars per 100g – Banana Crispy Tiddlers at 59g of sugar per 100g, and Pineapple, Coconut and Mango Juicy Fruit Bars made up of 30.7g of sugar per 100g.
A poll for Action on Sugar found 84% of parents of young children said they buy these sweet snacks for their children, and 60% said a “no added sugar” claim would be the reason for choosing a particular product.
Some 92% said they were more inclined to buy products containing “natural sources” of sugars; for example, fruit.
Action on Sugar described the findings as of “deep concern”, advising that babies and toddlers should not eat any free sugars at all.
It has called for the removal of “misleading” nutrition and health claims, especially around “no added sugar”, when such ingredients are replaced by fruit concentrates which are still a type of free sugar and should be limited.
It is also urging the Government to finally publish its composition guidelines for baby and toddler products, which will guide manufacturers on how much sugar should be used.
Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar and research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, said: “It’s ludicrous that certain food companies are being allowed to promote their high-sugar sweet snacks to parents with very young children, despite them being aware that babies and toddlers shouldn’t be having any free sugars.
“Babies can have a preference for sweet foods, due to milk being ever so slightly sweet, but liking sugary foods is something they only learn by eating sugary foods.
“Some companies choose to encourage this preference further by providing lots of very sweet products from an early age. What we need is companies to make products with minimal amount of sugars, so young children can grow up enjoying less sweet foods.”
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis means we’re eating too many calories. If we don’t use those calories as fuel, our body will store them as fat.
“This can lead to weight gain and, if this happens to our children, it’s likely they will carry the weight into their adolescent and adult years, potentially leading to overweight or obesity, as well as suffering from agonising tooth decay.
“It is therefore imperative that food companies act more responsibly and commit to reformulate sugar, salt and calorie reduction instead of foisting unhealthy products with misleading nutrition claims upon well-meaning parents.”
Heinz said in a statement: “Sugar reduction is a key focus for Heinz for Baby and we are looking into ways to improve the products we make. Alongside the original rusks, Farley’s offer a range of reduced-sugar rusks with 30% less sugar.
“The level of added sugars in these recipes is kept to a minimum consistent with the need to provide a texture which dissolves easily to avoid the risk of choking. Farley’s Rusks are very different from typical biscuits, containing very little fat and no added salt.”
A Kiddylicious spokeswoman said: “The Kiddylicious products highlighted in this report are sweetened by fruit, which naturally does contain sugar.
“We pack all of our snacks in portion-controlled bags for tinier tummies. This helps parents to moderate consumption and also ensures that the nutritionals are of appropriate levels for children.”