Misleading baby food packaging caught sugar coating the truth

11 Feb 2022
Misleading baby food packaging caught sugar coating the truth

Child nutrition researchers at SAHMRI have released a report revealing many of the products featured in Australia’s growing baby food industry are boasting misleading packaging.

The industry has doubled in market value since 2013 and is now worth over $1.2 billion, but experts are concerned infant health isn’t the top priority.

The report covered more than 400 items on the market, assessing the extent to which their marketing aligns with current guidelines.

All had marketing on packages positioning them as natural, with 89% claiming to be free from additives or preservatives and more than half including ‘organic’ statements and symbols.

SAHMRI Women and Kids Theme Senior Researcher, Dr Merryn Netting, who led the study, more than half of all products claimed to be low in sugar, or to include only ‘natural’ sugar, yet were found to have been sweetened with sugar-filled fruit purées.

Foods were also low in iron and served as poor sources of overall nutrition.

“Although they’re being promoted as ‘natural’, we found these products were nothing like real food in terms of nutritional content,” Dr Netting said.

“In fact, one-third were categorised as highly-processed ‘discretionary’ snack foods, that don’t provide the nutrients toddlers need to grow and develop.”

Many of the items also resembled unhealthy snacks such as chips and biscuits, sparking concerns these products are conditioning children to favour poor eating habits later in life.

“By shaping these items like discretionary adult snack foods, children are being conditioned to desire the foods they should be largely avoiding for optimal health,” Dr Netting said.

Researchers found the use of ‘better-for-you’ features on infant and toddler foods were used as a particularly common selling point, with many also making developmental claims promoting self-feeding skills and tastebud development.

But Dr Netting says there’s no evidence to suggest they can help in any of those areas.

“Packaging commonly used phrases like, “teach your little one to love their veggies”, “promote independence”, “develop pincer grip and hand to mouth coordination” and “grow and develop happily through every milestone,” Dr Netting said.

“These statements are baseless and are being used to sway parents to make purchases without having to prove their credibility.”

The National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) Infant Feeding Guidelines state that infants should breast feed and then start on iron rich, solid foods at around 6 months.

To help prevent development of food allergies, the expert advice is to give babies a wide variety of allergy causing foods being consumed by the rest of the family from 12 months onwards.

“The latest scientific evidence drawn from large trials has shown this, yet disappointingly many baby food manufacturers continue to promote allergen free products as though all parents should be avoiding feeding their babies these ingredients,” Dr Netting said.

Experts are calling on Government to enforce stricter regulation of the nutritional composition and marketing of foods labelled as suitable for infants and toddlers.

Parents are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the latest advice on baby feeding practices via the Raising Children Network.

Support research like this