Promotional claims on baby food may mislead parents, researchers say

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Promotional claims about baby food can be “misleading” and could “confuse” parents, academics have said.

This is due to “healthy halo” promotional messages on baby food packaging, which can make products appear healthier than they actually are.

An example is the addition of the label “vegetable tastes” to indicate a higher proportion of fruit, which is naturally sweeter.

Similarly, “no added sugar” claims can lead parents to believe that products are sugar-free.

In fact, promoting high-sugar baby foods could be “detrimental” because food preferences are often formed early in life.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow say current UK legislation does not specifically regulate promotional messages used on commercial baby food (CBF). They therefore wanted to “understand to what extent the baby food industry uses promotional claims on CBFs sold in the UK”.

Their study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, found that more than 6,200 promotional claims were made about the products, including marketing messages, composition and nutrient details, and health claims.

They found that each baby food product had an average of nine promotional claims, including one with 17 promotional claims on a single package.

The researchers wrote, “Promotional claims on CBF packaging are widely used, which could mislead parents.”

For example, on products aimed at parents of babies four months and older, a phrase often included read “the government advises not to wean your little one until he is six months old.” Every baby is different!”

72% of products considered snacks had promotional messages about baby-directed weaning.

The authors of the report wrote: “The fierce use of CBF marketing claims reported here is consistent with a WHO (World Health Organization) report concluding that CBF marketing is common and pervasive.

“This is concerning as the availability of highly processed baby snacks is on the rise and we have found that dry foods (small bites and cereals) have a high number of health claims.

“Dry bites are given as snacks, but snacks are not recommended in this age group.

“Thus, the promotion of snacking habits from 6 to 12 months should be limited because of the negative implications for obesity.”

Meanwhile, the term “organic” is used regularly and could influence parental confidence, they added.

The authors wrote: “Promotional claims on CBF packaging are widely used and, for the most part, unregulated. CBFs are promoted using “healthy halo” connotations that might confuse parents.

“Regulations on their use should be put in place to prevent inappropriate marketing.”

The study was based on 724 baby products sold at Asda, Lidl, Tesco, Aldi, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Amazon, between June and September 2020.


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