The Public Health England has criticised baby and infant food manufacturers for loading their products with unacceptably large amounts of sugar and wrongly promoting them as good for health.
Sugar makes up almost half the content of fruit- and vegetable-based snacks for babies and infants, the agency said in an exposé of the booming baby food market.
“Some baby foods have far too much sugar in them and no one should consider this acceptable’, said Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist.
He said food companies made so many nutritionally harmful products and breached official guidelines on children’s feeding so routinely that they were in danger of losing parents’ trust.
PHE highlighted snack foods aimed at young children, especially processed dried fruit, as a particular threat to infants’ health. Many foods marketed as healthy snacks were loaded with sugar, it found.
PHE voiced alarm about the content and marketing techniques involved as it launched an analysis of the content of 1,120 baby food and drink products aimed at children aged up to three years.
It said: “Some sweet snacks can contain as much sugar as confectionery. The highest sugar levels are seen in fruit- and vegetable-based [products] (47.5g), and sweet finger foods (17g per 100g).”
Tedstone said: “The baby food industry must be careful not to break the trust of parents.” She said the industry was promoting routine consumption of such foods as snacks to be eaten between meals, at the expense of babies’ and children’s health.
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,” she added.
PHE did not name the unhealthiest products it had found.
Kiddylicious smoothie melts contained 67.7g of sugar per 100g. In a typical 6g packet, 4.1g is sugar, its maker acknowledges on its website.
The sugar comes from the fruits in the melts such as apple, blackcurrants, banana, mango and passion fruit.
Babylicious’s website says: “Our smoothie melts only contain sugars that occur naturally in the fruit. Our strawberry and banana smoothie melts are made of 100% pure fruit, which we whizz up and then set into tasty bubbly bites that melt as soon as you put them on your tongue.”
Earlier, the body representing Britain’s specialist children’s doctors said pouches and jars of baby food often contained excessive amounts of sugar and contributed to tooth decay, poor diet and obesity.
It urged parents to give their offspring more bitter-tasting foods such as broccoli and spinach to help them avoid developing a sweet tooth at such a young age.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said so many baby products contained such high sugar levels that ministers should introduce mandatory upper limits.
Tedstone said PHE’s review had uncovered some worrying findings, including some of the foods marketed as healthy.