Health groups urge UK government to release baby food and drink guidelines amid sugar consumption fears
24 May 2023 --- Action on Sugar and a group of NGOs, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, World Cancer Research Fund and Diabetes UK, are today calling for UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay to release the long-awaited Commercial Baby Food and Drink Guidelines.
The demands come as government data suggests that the main contributor of sugars in infants aged four to nine months originates from shop-bought baby foods – in particular, fruit-based and cereal-based foods.
According to Action on Sugar – an expert group based at Queen Mary University of London, UK – many baby food brands are already reducing sugars. However, there are still products marketed as suitable for infants and young children with unsuitably high sugar levels.
The expert group and 16 NGOs argue that releasing the guidelines is essential to improving the nutritional content of shop-bought baby foods. Moreover, the guidelines should be mandatory to ensure companies are incentivized to follow them. Voluntary measures only have been in place for some time.
“One of the key requirements for the guidelines would be mandatory targets for sugar reduction,” Zoe Davies, nutritionist at Action on Sugar, tells NutritionInsight.
“Years of just asking the food industry to make changes, such as with the salt and sugar reformulation programs, have shown voluntary measures don’t work, and the government needs to learn from this.”
Meanwhile, leading baby food companies Babease, Little Dish and Little Freddie have signed an open letter to the Health Minister, urging the government to release the commercial baby food and drink guidelines in order to create a “level playing field.”
Action on Sugar highlights that the range in total sugar levels in similar products can be as much as 64 g difference.
In a 2022 Censuswide survey of 1,000 UK parents with children aged 6 to 36 months old, 91% said they support the government in taking action to ensure all food and drinks available in the baby aisle are nutritionally appropriate, according to National Health Service (NHS) recommendations.
“Without doubt, both parents and children need to be supported for better health, and it’s imperative that the baby food industry plays its part,” continues Davies.
“The impact that good nutrition in early life has on someone’s future diet and health cannot be understated, which is why baby food guidelines are needed to ensure all food and drink products marketed to babies are nutritionally appropriate.”
Yesterday, the Obesity Health Alliance demanded that UK political parties commit to addressing the high levels of excess weight in the country’s population.
The organization hand-delivered letters to the future leaders of the UK government after YouGov national polling found the British public overwhelmingly in favor of political action to improve children’s nutrition.
A healthy start
The consequences of an unhealthy diet in the early years have been shown to have a life-long impact on a person’s diet and health, which is why the health groups want the baby food and drink industry to do more to encourage a healthy diet.
Introducing good nutrition early on is essential in developing a healthy relationship with and preference for healthy foods and in supporting a baby’s future health.
It is recommended that infants (before the age of two) should avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with added sugar and, after this, free sugars should provide no more than 5% of their daily energy intake (approximately 14 g).
However, by the time children are 18 months, they are reportedly already consuming nearly 30 g of free sugars per day – the recommended maximum for an adult.5,6
Dr. Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar and research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, adds: “An unhealthy diet high in saturated fat, salt and sugar and low in fruit and vegetables is the biggest cause of preventable ill health globally.”
“Given this, all food and drink companies should act responsibly and commit to improving their products as part of government and NHS guidance and provide peace of mind for parents when buying foods for their young children.”
Public Health England and The Department of Health and Social Care released their report on food and drinks aimed at infants and young children in 2019. In 2020, they proposed draft guidelines for consultation, with an initial goal for the guidelines to be rolled out by 2023.
By Joshua Poole
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