Many baby foods contain disproportionately high amounts of sugar, WHO warns

Parents may do well to check the nutritional content on the labels of store-purchased baby foods as many of these contain high levels of sugar beyond the recommended value according to findings by World Health Organization (WHO) experts.

Researchers at the European branch of the WHO analysed data from almost 8,000 food or drink products marketed for infants and young children from more than 500 stores in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Israel between November 2017 and January 2018.

They found that in three of the cities, half or more of the products provided over 30 percent of the calories from total sugars, far more than WHO’s recommended daily guidelines of 10 per cent.

Around a third of the products listed sugar, concentrated fruit juice or other sweetening agents as an ingredient.  These can be considered free sugars, just as they are in fruit juice, and if eaten frequently “may pose a threat to the very young as first teeth erupt”. The sweetness may also influence the child’s food preferences as they grow up, the report says.

The experts also stated that the very high level of free sugars in pureed commercial products was a cause for concern, even though fruits and vegetables containing natural sugars are considered appropriate for infants and young children.

Foods for infants and young children are expected to comply with various established nutrition and compositional recommendations,” says Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Disease. “Nonetheless, there are concerns that many products may still be too high in sugars.”

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, adds: “Good nutrition in infancy and early childhood remains key to ensuring optimal child growth and development and to better health outcomes later in life – including the prevention of overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).”

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