Improving the nutritional quality of baby food

nutritional survey of baby food on sale in Europe has shown that a significant number of products contain high sugar levels that contradict World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.

In collaboration with WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), researchers from the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition and the School of Medicine have developed a draft Nutrient Profile Model for infants and young children aged from six to 36 months.

The draft Nutrient Profile Model aims to classify products that are intended for babies and toddlers, to guide changes to their composition and to ensure they are marketed appropriately – all to help promote a healthy diet for infants and young children.

The findings and recommendations for baby food promotion and composition from the draft Nutrient Profile Model are included in a WHO/Europe report launched today in Brussels.

The model sets composition thresholds for baby food products, including fats, sugar and salt, in line with WHO guidance.

Leeds researchers compared the Nutrient Profile Model against nutritional and food composition data from 2,641 baby food products from Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom (using 2016/2017 data), and a further 1,314 products in seven additional European countries (using 2018 data).

The study found that only about a third of products examined met all of the six main compositional thresholds proposed by the Nutrient Profile Model.

High sugar levels in baby food 

Of particular concern were high levels of sugar and the use of concentrated fruit juice or other sweetening agents. The study found on average, approximately one third of energy in baby foods surveyed came from total sugar.

The use of added sugars was widespread across products and many contradict WHO recommendations for sugar levels.

The amount of total sugar refers to all sugar contained in a product, this includes added sugar and naturally occurring sugar, such as those occurring in milk products and in certain foods’ cellular structure.

Free sugar refers to sugar added by the manufacturer and can also include sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices as well as sugars that are 'released' from fruit or vegetable cellular structures when they are processed and pureed.

Added sugars and foods high in free sugar are often used in baby foods to make them more palatable or to mask a sour or bitter taste.


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