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A survey by the British Dental Association (BDA) of 109 pouches aimed at children under 12 months old found that more than a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca-Cola.
Fruit-based versions of the pouches were found to contain up to 150 percent equivalent of the soft drink.
With some of these packets being marketed at parents looking to wean their babies from formula or breast milk, it can mean children as young as four are being given a sugary and unhealthy diet.
The BDA has hit out at marketing claims, describing them as 'meaningless' for using phrases such as 'naturally occurring sugars' and 'no added sugar'. The body claims they are misleading parents into thinking they were making healthy choices when buying pouches for their children.
The survey also found that almost 40 percent of products were marketed at babies from four months old, despite guidance from both the UK and the World Health Organisation recommending weaning from six months old.
More products were highlighted as they claimed they were 'nutritionally approved' or in line with infants’ 'nutritional and developmental needs'. The survey also called out brands using 'hero' labelling to potentially fool parents and make them believe the pouches are a healthy choice for their little ones.
The BDA singled out brands such as Ella's Kitchen and Annabel Karmel, considered to be market leaders, as both appear to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own-brand products.
Manufacturers have responded to the claims, stating that high levels of natural or locked in sugar are to be expected, yet some brands offering similar products were able to offer half the sugar of others.
The BDA also warned that pouches could have an impact on infants teeth, as when sucking directly from the pouches it can mean more time in contact with baby teeth and increase the risk of erosion and decay.
The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to consult on the marketing and labelling of infant food.
Leaders in dentistry have also got behind the BDA and have said the excessive levels of sugar in many infant pouches needs action, including clearer 'traffic light' labelling similar to that seen on adults food products, calling for a potential expansion of the Sugar Levy to encourage reformulation and clearer guidance for parents.
Analysis by Action on Sugar last year of 73 baby and toddler sweet snacks such as rusks, biscuits, oat bars and puffs found that only six products (8 percent) would be given a green (low) label for sugars.
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.”
Ella's Kitchen has responded to the claims and told Tyla in a statement: "Sugars in fruit or vegetable purees are classed free sugars* and occur naturally whether the puree is made commercially or in the home. These are not added sugars and they only represent those sugars naturally present in the fruit or vegetable.
"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 percent vegetable pouches, bringing down sugar on average across the range by 20 percent. Any new products aim to be 10 percent 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.
"We do not use the term 'organic' as a ‘health halo’ claim. The term means that the ingredients we use have been grown using a heavily regulated and holistic method that preserves the soil, biodiversity etc."
Fellow baby food retailer Annabel Karmel also shared their views with Tyla in a statement: "Annabel Karmel’s organic purees are inspired by her much-loved homecooked recipes. They are specially designed for babies and contain 100% fruit with no added salt or sugar. The limited sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars found in the fruits used. A limited range of our purees are currently stocked in Ocado."
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