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  • Baby Foods Are High in Sugar and Marketed Wrongly: WHO Europe Findings

    Giving babies sugary baby food can predispose them to prefer sweeter foods later on.
    by Kate Borbon .
Baby Foods Are High in Sugar and Marketed Wrongly: WHO Europe Findings
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Two new studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) have found that many baby foods are being incorrectly marketed for infants less than 6 months old, and these also contain alarmingly high levels of sugar.

    The organization drafted a “Nutrient Profile Model” (NPM) meant to serve as a guide for deciding on the food products to be considered inappropriate for children between the ages 6 and 36 months. The NPM was forwarded to the WHO member states and stakeholders for their consideration and discussion.

    Additionally, WHO/Europe developed a methodology seeking to identify commercial baby foods that can be purchased in retail settings and to collect information of these products, including nutritional content and claims.

    The organization used this methodology to gather data on nearly 8,000 food or drink products marketed for babies and young children. The products came from over 500 stores located in four cities which are part of the WHO European region, namely Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Haifa, Israel; and Sofia, Bulgaria. The information gathered from these products were used between November 2017 and January 2018.

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    The organization found that 28% to 60% of the products studied were incorrectly marketed as suitable for infants less than 6 months old. A statement on the WHO/Europe website notes that while this is permitted under the law of the European Union (EU), it also fails to comply with the provisions of the WHO International Code for Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes and the WHO Guidance, both of which “explicitly state that complementary commercial foods should not be marketed as suitable for infants under 6 months of age.”

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    The studies also concluded that in three of the four cities included in the study, more than 30% of the calories in half or more of the products came from sugars, as the United Nations (UN) notes. Around a third of these products contained sweetening agents like sugar and concentrated fruit juice.

    The WHO/Europe statement also says that puréed commercial products contain a “very high level of free sugars” as well.

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    “Food for infants and young children are expected to comply with various established nutrition and compositional recommendations,” Dr. Joao Breda, head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, says. “Nonetheless, there are concerns that many products may still be too high in sugars.”

    Prioritize breastfeeding and reduce sugar intake

    WHO and our own Department of Health have a long-standing recommendation when it comes to infant nutrition: babies should be breastfed exclusively during their first six months of life. Research has proven that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months is the optimal way of providing infants the nutrients they need. After this period, the baby is to be given complementary foods while still being breastfed up until she is 2 years old or even older.

    Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life,” the WHO says.

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    Similarly, the organization warns that allowing babies to consume a lot of sugar very early on in life can be harmful. “These added flavors and sugars could affect the development of children’s taste preferences by increasing their liking for sweeter foods,” the WHO/Europe statement says.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests giving less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day to children ages 2 years and above and refraining from giving any foods and drinks with added sugar to children less than 2 years old.

    Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, states, “Good nutrition in infancy and early childhood remains key to ensuring optimal child growth and development, and to better health outcomes later in life — including the prevention of overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) — thereby making United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages much more achievable.”

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    Read more about how to reduce your child’s sugar intake here.

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