Healthy and environmentally sustainable foods for infants and young children: taking a close look at commercial babyfoods and listening to families

Baby in supermarket trolley, Mum crouching holding out food.

The baby food aisle is largely unregulated, with no current guidelines on added or total sugar levels, for instance. Many products are also misleadingly marketed, appearing healthier than they are or they are sold as suitable before 6 months of age, contrary to UK recommendations. The quality of infant and young child diets is dependent on caregiver choices, in turn driven by intrinsic (e.g. caregiver age, education, and beliefs) and extrinsic factors (e.g. price, availability, marketing messages, or convenience/processing). 

The cost-of-living crisis has highlighted inequalities, with cheaper foods being poorer in quality. The most deprived fifth of the population would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to achieve the Government-recommended healthy diet. This compares to just 11% for the least deprived fifth. More healthy foods are over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods. This may also apply to baby foods, but we have no contemporary data on baby food quality (nutrition, responsible marketing, use of industrial processing, and environmental impact) in relation to cost and consumer choice.

Our project will:
1)    Generate evidence on baby food quality, sustainability and cost by evaluating baby foods on sale from four major retailers. We will Update our UK baby foods dataset and also evaluate food processing and assess the nutritional content and marketing on pack using our World Health Organisation tool.
2)    Undertake a survey of 1000 caregivers plus focus groups to understand barriers and motivators of baby food choices.
3)    Deliver a wide-reaching dissemination and impact plan. Including policy response to government, meetings with OHID, social media outreach.

Project website