Parents confused by labels on food for children

Parents trying to buy healthy food for their young children are being hampered by high levels of artificial additives, long lists of ingredients and confusing health claims on packaging, according to research published today.

Although the vast majority of parents try to avoid buying foods high in fat, salt and sugar, more than a third said they did not know what half of the ingredients listed on packets were. Only 8 per cent said they trusted manufacturers to provide healthy products for their children.

Nutritionists have helped to compile a list of “dirty dozen” ingredients in children’s food which parents are advised to avoid. These include artificial colourings such as “brilliant blue” and “sunset yellow”, flavourings such as monosodium glutamate, sweeteners such as sodium saccharine and aspartame, and preservatives such as sodium benzoate and sulphur dioxide.

Children-orientated high street brands which make use of them include Ribena (aspartame and acesulphame K), Robinsons fruit squash (aspartame) and blueberry Pop Tarts (brilliant blue, indigo carmine). Their manufacturers either declined to comment or did not respond yesterday.

Dr Frankie Phillips, a nutritionist, said: “Snacks designed for older children and adults – even those marketed as ‘healthy’ – can contain far more salt and sugar than is good for a toddler. As a mum of four girls, I look at labels myself and really think about what they mean, so make as much as I can from scratch.”

The national survey, conducted by parenting consultancy MumPanel, asked 700 mothers of children aged between six months and five years about their eating habits and attitudes towards Britain’s £92bn-a-year food industry.

Three quarters of those surveyed said they believed manufacturers were driven by profit rather than childrens’ health and said the food industry should take greater responsibility through clearer labelling, allowing parents to make better choices.

The research was commissioned by Organix, which makes organic products for babies and toddlers.

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