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WHO finds many baby foods high in sugar and unsuitable for infants

A large proportion of commercial baby foods contain too much sugar and are deemed unsuitable for infants under six months, according to a new UN report.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) tested just under 8,000 food or drink products from over 500 stores in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Israel between November 2017 and January 2018 and found that many contained “inappropriately high levels of sugar” and were incorrectly marketed as suitable for infants under the age of six months.

It found that around half of the products provided over 30 per cent of the calories from total sugars, and around a third of the products listed sugar, concentrated fruit juice or other sweetening agents as an ingredients, something which could affect the development of children’s taste preferences by increasing their liking for sweeter foods, according to WHO.

The report noted that while fruits and vegetables that naturally contain sugars are appropriate for infants and young children, the very high level of free sugars in puréed commercial products is a “cause for concern”.

“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,” Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe said.

WHO states that while the marketing of these products is permitted under European Union law, it does not honour the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes or the WHO Guidance which states that commercial complementary foods should not be marketed as suitable for infants under 6 months of age.

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

WHO’s recommendation is that “children should be breastfed, exclusively, for the first six months”.

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