‘Misleading’ baby food labels confuse parents into thinking products are healthier than they are, experts warn
- Glasgow researchers looked at more than 700 baby food products on sale in the UK
- They found that more than half had marketing claims that could mislead parents.
- The authors said rules should be established to help new parents make healthy choices
New parents are warned to beware of “misleading” marketing tactics used by baby food manufacturers.
Promotional material on product packaging confuses parents and fuels childhood obesity, experts say.
The wording is largely unregulated and often involves indirect health benefits, known as the “healthy halo effect”.
Some products described as having “vegetable tastes” may indeed contain a higher proportion of fruit which is naturally sweeter.
Wording such as “no added sugar” could also mislead parents into believing the items are completely sugar-free, it is feared.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow analyzed 724 baby foods – aimed at infants up to 12 months – sold by Aldi, Amazon, Asda, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons.
It comes as the UK baby food market is booming, growing at 2.5% a year, with the market expected to reach £1 billion by 2024.
But experts say the absence of any legally binding regulations for the composition and promotion of manufactured baby food means the market is ‘something free for all’.
The survey, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that baby food products sold in the UK had a total of 6,265 promotional claims, with an average of nine per product. Some wore up to 17.
A survey of baby food sold in the UK has revealed a number of worrying trends in how it’s being promoted, leading the authors to say new parents are facing a free-for-all.
Your baby’s first solid foods
When to start
Introducing solid foods to your baby, sometimes called complementary feeding or weaning, should start when your baby is around six months old.
At first, how much your baby eats is less important than getting him used to the idea of eating.
They will still get most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or first infant formula.
If your baby was born prematurely, ask your doctor or GP for advice on when to start introducing solid foods.
How to start
At first, your baby will only need a small amount of food before his usual feed.
Don’t worry about how much they eat. The most important thing is to get them used to new tastes and textures, and to learn how to move solid foods around their mouths and swallow them.
They will still get most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or infant formula.
There are certain foods to avoid giving your baby. For example, don’t add sugar or salt (including bouillon cubes and gravy) to your baby’s food or cooking water.
Babies should not eat salty foods as it is bad for their kidneys and the sugar can cause tooth decay.
What is baby-led weaning
Baby-driven weaning involves only giving your baby bites and letting him feed himself from the start instead of giving him mashed or pureed foods from a spoon.
Some parents prefer baby-directed weaning to spoon feeding, while others do a combination of the two.
There is no right or wrong way. The most important thing is that your baby eats a wide variety of foods and gets all the nutrients he needs.
There is no more risk of choking when a baby feeds than when he is spoon-fed.
The top composition claim was “organic”, nutrition claims were mostly about “no added sugar” or “less” sugar, and the most common health claim was about the role of iron in supporting development normal cognitive.
More than half of the articles referenced nutritional benefits, with claims of “no added” or “less” sugar and/or salt present in almost 60%.
Claims of baby-directed weaning, where babies are given food to eat themselves rather than from a spoon, were found on 72% of baby snacks, such as food bars, which the authors called of “debatable”.
The researchers said promoting snacking habits as a way to help babies eat on their own has the potential to encourage overeating and obesity later in life.
Overall, they argued that the widespread use of unregulated claims on manufactured baby foods was of concern.
In particular, they highlighted the use of the term “vegetable taste” on certain products which, in reality, were composed of a combination of fruits and vegetables with a predominantly sweet taste.
The study’s lead author, Dr Ada Garcia, said influencing food preferences early in life could have long-term health consequences for babies.
“Given that food preferences are formed early in life and infants have an innate preference for sweet and savory foods, promoting sweet baby foods with high amounts of sugar could be detrimental,” he said. she declared.
She said the findings indicate that more should be done to regulate claims made on packaging, which could mislead parents vulnerable to such suggestions as they seek to give their baby a healthy start in life. .
“Promotional claims on packaging are widely used, which could mislead parents,” she said.
“The unrestricted use of health halo messages and statements on packaging calls on policy makers and stakeholders to update guidelines, legislation and policies aimed at protecting this vulnerable demographic so that recommendations on infant feeding are not undermined.”
Government plans new restrictions on junk food advertising from April this year in a bid to tackle childhood obesity
Part of those measures include banning junk food ads online and before 9 p.m. on TV.
Obesity is a growing problem, in both the UK and the US, up to a third of young people are considered overweight.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET RESULT IN?
Meals should be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starches, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-grain bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on.
• Have dairy products or dairy alternatives (like soy beverages) choosing low fat and low sugar options
• Eat beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small amounts
• Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of water per day
• Adults should consume less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide