In their latest article, the British Dental Association are calling for action to be taken on the shocking levels of sugar in many popular brands of baby food pouches in order to protect the oral health of young children.

Baby food pouches surged in popularity among parents as they are marketed as a convenient ‘grab and go’ solution. However, research conducted shows that there are extremely high sugar content in the vast majority of these products, meaning that many children could be getting hooked on sugar as young as four months old.

Furthermore, this ‘eat straight from the pouch’ mechanism which is promoted by some brands, means the contents are being left in contact with the teeth even longer.

Research into 109 pouches aimed at children under 12-months-old found:

  • Over a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca Cola. Infants as young as four months are marketed fruit-based pouches that contain the equivalent of up to 150% of the sugar levels of pop.

  • 'Boutique' or high-end brands appear to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own brand alternatives, with market leaders Ella's Kitchen and Annabel Karmel coming in for criticism.

  • Some products examined aimed at four months plus contain up to two thirds of an adult's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar.

  • WHO guidance recommends weaning from six months old, so no products should be allowed to be marketed as 'four months plus', yet nearly 40% of products examined were marketed at this age group.

  • Over two thirds of the products examined exceeded the 5g of sugar per 100ml threshold set for the sugar levy applied to drinks.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says:

Many baby food brands are misleading parents into believing their products are healthy for children, when the reality is this is far from the truth.

Baby foods simply cannot be considered healthy if they have a detrimental impact on a child’s oral health. All too often cheap and sweet bases such as apple are used in baby foods. 

These are not only unhealthy for the baby but for the teeth also.  Some of these foods can contain over three times the adult recommended sugar intake.

There is evidence to suggest that introducing sweet foods at an early age leads to a lifetime preference for excessively sweet foods.

Alternatives are available which are much healthier for the baby, based on vegetables rather than sweet fruit bases and parents would be well advised to seek these out.

It’s disappointing to see that no matter where parent’s turn, their choices are nearly all packed with sugar. Manufactures must take responsibility to cut the sugar content down and look for healthier alternatives.  We call on the government to put legislation in place, similar to the soft drinks levy, to control the amount of sugar manufacturers are putting in their products.

Sweet products should not be recommended to children under 12 months or indeed at older ages.

There is no possible reason or justification as to why a baby food pouch should contain as much sugar as a can of coke.

Offering advice for parents, Dr Carter adds:

Understand that these products are simply not as healthy as homemade purees  or fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.

For most parents, it’s not realistic to ask, or expect them, to make all their own baby food but even opting for soft fresh fruits and vegetables, or mashed or stewed root vegetables like carrots, is always going to be healthier than store bought processed foods.

The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to consult imminently on the marketing and labelling of infant foods, when the results of this consultation are released, we will add an update.