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Baby food pouches have more sugar than Coca-Cola, dentists warn

Parents warned of an ‘epidemic’ of tooth decay among children

Kate Ng
Friday 08 July 2022 13:03 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

UK dentists have warned that many baby food pouches contain more sugar than Coca-Cola.

The British Dental Association (BDA) are concerned over an “epidemic” of tooth decay among young children.

A survey carried out by the organisation of 109 baby food pouches aimed at children under 12 months old found that more than a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca-Cola.

The fruit-based pouches marketed for infants between four and 12 months old were found to contain sugar levels equivalent to up to 150 per cent of the soft drink.

Some products that were examined even contained up to two-thirds of an adult’s recommended daily allowance of sugar, the report found.

The BDA said that the results contrasted with the products’ claims that they contained only “naturally occurring sugars” or “no added sugar”.

All products that were found to be high in sugar adopted so-called “halo” labelling, which focused on their “organic” status or that they were “high in fibre”.

This could potentially mislead parents into thinking they were making healthy choices when buying these products, the BDA’s report warned.

The body of dentists named market leaders Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel for appearing to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own-brand alternatives.

Manufacturers said high levels of natural or locked-in sugar was inevitable with fruit-based pouches.

However, some brands were able to offer similar products containing around half the sugar of the worst offenders, the survey found.

The BDA also warned that infants often sucked directly from the pouches, which meant the food spent more time in contact with baby teeth and increased the risk of erosion and decay.

It said that instead of clear messaging from manufacturers advising that babies should not consume the products directly from the pouch, packaging by Annabel Karmel explicitly states “eat straight from the pouch”.

It comes after 2021 analysis by Action on Sugar found that 73 baby and toddler sweet snacks such as rusks, biscuits, oat bars and puffs found that only six products (eight per cent) would be given a green (low) label for sugar.

BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Disingenuous marketeers are giving parents the impression they are making a healthy choice with these pouches. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Claims of ‘no added sugar’ are meaningless when mums and dads end up delivering the lion’s share of a can of Coke to their infants.

“Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, and sugar is driving this epidemic. These products sadly risk hooking the next generation before they can even walk.

“Ministers need to break the UK’s addiction. They must ensure sugar becomes the new tobacco, especially when it comes to our youngest patients.”

A spokesperson for Annabel Karmel said: “Annabel Karmel’s organic purees are inspired by her much-loved homecooked recipes. They are specially designed for babies and contain 100 per cent fruit with no added salt or sugar. The limited sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars found in the fruits used.”

A spokesperson for Ella’s Kitchen said: “At Ella’s Kitchen, we take infant nutrition very seriously and, since 2016, building on recommendations from Public Health England, we have been reducing the proportion of higher sugar fruits like bananas in our recipes, as well as introducing lower sugar fruits and 100 per cent vegetable pouches, bringing down sugar on average across the range by 20 per cent.

“Any new products aim to be 10 per cent less sugar than the range average as a commitment to ongoing sugar reduction in stage 1 recipes.

“We do not advise that little ones consume our purees directly from the pouch, instead recommending that they be consumed from a spoon and eaten as part of a varied diet including lots of homemade foods.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is expected to consult imminently on the marketing and labelling of infant food.

A spokesperson said: “We have challenged businesses to improve the nutritional content of baby food and drink, as our review in 2019 found inconsistencies between national recommendations and the ingredients and nutritional content of these products.”

Additional reporting by PA

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