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Almost all baby foods fail to meet WHO sugar recommendations

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How healthy is the food we’re feeding the youngest Australians?

Researchers have today released a study showing the vast majority of commercially available baby and toddler foods do not meet nutrient recommendations, and almost all contain added sugar.

“We looked at 250 baby and toddler foods and we benchmarked them against the World Health Organization (WHO) European offices’ recommendations,” Jane Martin, one of the researchers and executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition told Cosmos Science.

“We found that two thirds of these foods failed to meet the nutrition recommendations for their category … and foods for toddlers were the worst performers – with nine out of 10 failing to meet all of those recommendations.”

Australia has limits on sodium content in food for babies, but not for toddlers. There’s also no limit for sugar (added or otherwise), or for any other type of nutrients.

In 2019, WHO Europe put forward a ‘nutrient profile model’ to outline which of these foods provide the right nutrients for babies and toddlers under 36 months.

This includes metrics such as no added sugars or sweeteners, or an ‘energy density’ of less than 60 calories per 100 grams.

The researchers used this nutrient profile model on Australia’s toddler and baby food and found that there is still a long way to go. The worst culprit is sugar, with around 9 in 10 products containing added sugars or ‘free’ sugars from processed fruits.

“These processed fruit sugars in these products impact a child’s palate and they develop a preference for sweet tasting food,” says Martin.

“And that’s a concern because these foods can push vegetables out of the diet.”

This is even the case for ‘savory’ foods, with some being labeled with vegetables such as broccoli, but actually being mostly processed fruit, or consisting entirely of flavourings.

The researchers are hoping that this research pushes the government to implement better limits on added sugar and for manufacturers to improve the energy density of their products.

“If we had some standards applied across the board that would certainly make a difference and support manufacturers to produce healthier foods or meet the demand that’s out there for healthy nutritious products for kids,” says Martin.

“It’s really important to improve the food supply for the youngest Australians.”

But for parents in the meantime, Martin suggests that although these ready-made food items are convenient, it’s worth noting that they are not required.

“One thing to remember is that toddlers can eat the same healthy nutritious foods as the rest of the family – they don’t need special foods from a special place,” she says.

The research has been published in Health PromotionJournal of Australia.