Call for Government to enforce mandatory limits on free sugars in baby food

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Child health experts are urging the Government to enforce mandatory limits on the amount of free sugar in baby foods to improve child health.

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According to the RCPCH, pureed or liquid baby foods often contain a lot of sugar

Ahead of the Government’s Prevention is Better than Cure green paper due to be published next week, the Royal College of Paediatrics (RCPCH) has published its own strategy to transform the health and well-being of children and young people in the UK.

Its child health Prevention Vision calls on the Government to enforce mandatory limits on the amount of free sugar, which includes fruit sugars, that can be used in baby foods.

According to the RCPCH, pureed or liquid baby foods packaged in pouches often have a high energy density and a contain a lot of sugar, which risks babies developing a sweet tooth early on.

It says that excess sugar is one of the leading causes of tooth decay, which is the most common oral disease in children, affecting nearly a quarter of five-year-olds. Sugar intake also contributes to obesity.

Public Health England baby foods review

On the same day, Public Health England (PHE) warned against ‘healthy’ baby and toddler snacks, many of which it says contain high levels of sugar.

Within its review of baby foods and drinks aimed at children up to 36 months, it reveals some snacks that are marketed as ‘healthy’ contain as much sugar as confectionery.

The highest sugar content is found in processed dried fruit snacks, which PHE says shouldn’t be advertised as suitable for children to eat between meals.

Comments

Professor Mary Fewtrell, assistant officer for Health Improvement and Nutrition Lead for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said, ‘Part of the problem is that baby weaning products often contain a high proportion of fruit or sweeter tasting vegetables – and parents also often use fruit or sweet tasting vegetables as first foods at home.

‘If food is sucked from a pouch, a baby also misses out on the opportunity to learn about eating from a spoon or feeding himself. Baby foods can be labelled "no added sugar" if the sugar comes from fruit – but all sugars have the same effects on the teeth and on metabolism.

‘It’s important to recognise that babies have an innate preference for sweet tastes, but the key is not to reinforce that preference and to expose them to a variety of different flavours and food textures. Babies are very willing to try different flavours if they’re given the chance – and it’s important that they’re introduced to a variety of flavours including more bitter tasting foods such as broccoli and spinach from a young age.’

Recommendations

The RCPCH’s strategy includes a number of other recommendations, including:

  • For the Government to place a “moratorium” on public health funding cuts.
  • Smoking to be prohibited in playgrounds, sports fields and on NHS premises.
  • Advertising of formula milks for babies under the age of one to be banned.
  • The creation of a bespoke child health workforce strategy to be developed across the UK to address ‘worrying’ staff shortages.
  • A national mental health survey to be carried out every three years to identify the prevalence of mental health problems in young people.

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said, ‘We have a real opportunity to transform the future of child health in the UK, and I think politicians are beginning to realise that investing in children reaps real benefits for the wider population.

‘Our recommendations are backed by evidence and are practical. They will make a huge difference to child health and we urge the Government to consider them as a matter of urgency. If we don’t get it right for children, then the health of the whole nation is put in jeopardy.’

The Government has been contacted for a response.

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