Doctors call for sugar and salt limits in baby food

Doctors call for sugar and salt limits in baby food as they warn future generations are ‘at risk’ due to ‘nutritional lucky-dip’ that sees some products packed with more sugar than COCA COLA

  • Medics warn children’s health is at risk by lack of action on sugar in baby food
  • They said some popular brands were more sugary by volume than Coca Cola
  • Childhood obesity has soared in recent years, with about a third of kids too fat

Paediatricians and dentists have called for the Government to impose mandatory national limits in how much salt and sugar is in baby food.

Leading medics have said it is a ‘national disgrace’ that infants face a ‘nutritional lucky-dip’ with some products containing more sugar than a Coca Cola soft drink. 

They added some baby foods even contain up two-thirds of an adults recommended daily sugars, let alone a young child’s, placing the health of the next generation at risk. 

The call for greater action on child health in the UK was also echoed by former Conservative chancellor George Osborne and former Labour prime minister Sir Tony Blair.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health president Dr Camilla Kingdon said the current lack of action high levels of sugar in some baby food products couldn’t continue


She cited research by the British Dental Association published earlier this year that found some baby food products contained more sugar by volume than Coco Cola

The amount of sugar a person should eat in a day depends on how old they are.

Children aged four to six years old should be limited to a maximum of 19g per day.

Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24g, and children aged 11 and over should have 30g or less. 

Meanwhile the NHS recommends adults have no more than 30g of free sugars a day.

Popular snacks contain a surprising amount of sugar and even a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contains more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.  

A bowl of Frosties contains 24g of sugar, meaning a 10-year-old who has Frosties for breakfast has probably reached their limit for the day before they even leave the house.  

Children who eat too much sugar risk damaging their teeth, putting on fat and becoming overweight, and getting type 2 diabetes which increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Source: NHS 

It comes with childhood obesity on the rise in Britain, with one in three youngsters too fat by the time they leave primary school. 

The UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) which issued the call to action, said the Government had failed to act on draft commercial baby food and drink guidelines it proposed in 2020.

This, the college argued, had left the industry a Wild West, with no limits on the amount of salt and sugar that could be in products on supermarket shelves.

RCPCH president Dr Camilla Kingdon said the current lack of action couldn’t continue. 

‘It’s a national disgrace that there is currently zero guidance on the salt and sugar levels in products aimed at infants, who are in a critical stage of their development,’ she said. 

She added that parents were not at fault with companies taken in by effective and misleading marketing ploys.  

‘In my own practice, I see parents of very small and vulnerable babies buy baby food pouches and pots with the assumption that they are giving their children the best start they can,’ she said.

‘The marketing strategies used on these parents are highly effective, with buzzwords such as ‘all organic’, ‘natural sugars’ and ‘nutritionally approved’. At best this disingenuous, at worst dangerous.

‘Nutritional education, alongside government leadership and regulations are desperately needed. The future wellbeing of our children is too important.’

The British Dental Association (BDA), which earlier this year, published analysis showing many baby food pouches can contain more sugar by volume than Coca Cola, have also called for action. 

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said the Government cannot continue to let parents be misled into letting their children become addicted to sugar.  

Rates of obesity and being overweight have fallen this year after spiking during the Covid pandemic, but are still higher than pre-lockdown 

Among Year 6 pupils, national obesity prevalence dropped from 25.5 per cent in 2020/21 to 23.4 per cent. But in some parts of the country nearly half of all children this age were either obese or overweight. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham topped the list with a whopping 49 per cent of Year 6 pupils too fat. This was followed by Sandwell in the West Midlands just outside Birmingham at 48.9 per cent, and the city of Wolverhampton at 48.6 per cent

Nationally 10.1 per cent of Reception-aged children were obese during 2021/22. But rates were much higher in some parts of the country. The London borough of Westminster weighed in with one in four (28.9 per cent) of its four-and-five-year-old-children being either obese or overweight. This was followed by the town of St Helens in Merseyside and Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire which came joint second with 28.7 per cent of their children too fat

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE? 

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide 

‘Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children,’ he said. 

‘Yet Ministers are letting parents be duped into buying foods that can hook their kids to sugar from infancy.

‘Without action here the food industry will continue touting products more sugary than cola as healthy options.’

Some ex-senior Tories have also joined the call for the Government to take greater action on childhood obesity. 

Mr Osborne also said more needs to be done to tackle the causes of obesity, calling the lack of progress ‘disappointing’.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former Tory frontbencher said: ‘We wanted to ban the advertising of junk food or overly sugary food for programmes that kids might see.’

‘That still has not been implemented.

‘To my mind, that’s very disappointing.’

He added that the Conservatives ‘should not be afraid of sensible use of government to improve people’s health’ as it will reduce dependency on public services like the NHS in the long-term.

And Sir Tony, speaking to TV chef Jamie Oliver on the programme said he also backed calls for greater Government action on child health. 

‘This is absolutely fundamental. I honestly don’t think there’s anything more important for the future of the country but to make sure we deal with this – early years education and wellbeing,’ he said.

‘And particularly today when the pressures on families are enormous, and when there are levels of poverty that we really haven’t seen in the country for a long period of time.

‘For the sums of money you’re going to spend on this early years, if you really have the will to do it, I promise you having been in government, you could find the money necessary to do this.’

The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.  

The BDA’s analysis examined 109 baby food pouches aimed at children under 12 months.

They found about a quarter of the products including middle-class favourites Annabel Karmel and Ella’s Kitchen, have many items in their ranges more sugary than Coca Cola when measured by volume.

Some of the products even contained up to two thirds of an adult’s recommended 30g daily allowance of sugar.

At the time, a spokesperson for Annabel Karmel said its pouches’ ‘limited sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars found in the fruits used’.

And a spokesperson for Ella’s Kitchen said the company had been reducing the proportion of higher sugar fruits like bananas in its recipes as well as introducing lower sugar fruits and 100 per cent vegetable pouches.

NHS guidelines state there is no guideline for the amount of sugar children under the age of four should consume but it’s recommended to avoid as much sugar as possible. 

Baby food was left out of a Government challenge to the food industry in 2016 to reduce the amount of sugar contained in certain foods by 20 per cent. 

A high amount of sugar consumption is considered one of the factors that contributes to childhood obesity. 

Being too fat can bring a host of health problems like type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, all issues the RCPCH say are on the rise in children.

Too much sugar also impacts tooth decay, with rotting teeth now the most common reason for hospital admissions in children aged five to nine over the past four years.

The latest data on childhood obesity for England found that nationally, one in 10 youngsters are now classified obese by the time they start Reception.

But rates are much higher in some parts of the country, with one in four 28.9 per cent of four-and-five-year-old-children in Westminster overweight. 

The risk of childhood obesity has been linked to deprivation, with children in the poorer areas twice as likely to be too fat compared to youngsters from more affluent parts of the country. 

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