Childhood nutrition is currently receiving lots of attention, which is right given the scale of the problem. The Chief Medical Officer’s recent special report into childhood obesity shows how bad things have become. In the UK, one in five primary school children are starting school either overweight or obese – twice as many as 30 years ago.
The reports from public bodies have been coming thick and fast, too. Public Health England’s review of ‘Foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children’ and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s ‘Prevention Vision’ recommendations on babyfoods, both published in June, called for change.
We welcome the recommendations for the babyfood category. In fact we believe there’s been nowhere near enough emphasis on nutrition for the under-fives, or attention given to the crucial first years when relationships with food – both good and bad – are formed.
We take our responsibility very seriously, championing a veg-led approach to weaning and children’s nutrition. We are committed to improving our products to go above and beyond the changes being called for, especially in relation to free (naturally occurring) sugars. Industry has been called on to make changes in terms of both reformulation and new labelling to reflect the proportions of ingredients. We are listening and taking action.
But now we are asking for the same in return: to be listened to. Although we’ve been part of some conversations, we’ve not always been heard. We believe that only collaboration will lead to the action we all want to see for our little ones. We want to work more closely with organisations like PHE, towards greater public awareness and behaviour change and using the power of our joint influence for maximum good.
Our own nationwide survey of parents showed that over a third of under-fives in the UK have tried a chip before they’ve tried a carrot. Meanwhile, according to Veg Power, 80% of kids are not eating enough vegetables. This is not to blame parents: manufacturers have a responsibility to offer healthier choices, retailers need to be stocking them, nurseries need to be serving them, and government and health bodies should be working with us to empower parents and carers to make healthy eating the norm.
We need a more effective, joined-up approach that brings everyone into the conversation, to work out not just what needs to be done, but how it can be accomplished. Babyfood brands engage with thousands of parents and carers every day and are therefore uniquely placed to support them make the best choices. Isn’t collaboration better than pitching industry against public bodies?
Policy influencers could be working with us – we could be learning from each other’s input. For example, we believe calling out only the babyfood category doesn’t go far enough: shouldn’t we also be looking for similar commitments in other foods that babies and toddlers are given? Products in other categories may be very high in sugar and yet are only subject to voluntary sugar reduction targets, which many brands are failing to meet anyway. Preventing the use of no added sugar claims on high-sugar products is a policy that should not just be restricted to babyfoods.
This work is complicated. Our efforts have involved working with a number of experts and this month we are organising a consultation with academics, campaigners, child health and policy experts to discuss the solutions needed to overcome the challenges in childhood nutrition today. Not everyone has been open to engaging with us, but we’re ready and willing to listen and learn. We can accomplish far more together than we can alone.