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Action on Sugar campaigners say the amounts of sugars in many baby and toddler foods are ’alarming’

Health campaigners are rallying for baby and toddler brands to remove what they argue are “misleading” health claims on products with high sugar content.

Action on Sugar has called for the removal of “healthy-sounding” claims on packs of a range of baby food brands which would receive a red label for sugars under the traffic light system. 

After conducting a survey of 73 SKUs in the category, which found that 37% would receive a red label for sugars, the charity slammed what it said were “alarming amounts of sugars found in many baby & toddler sweet snacks such as biscuits, rusks, oat bars and puffs”. Only six products out of the 73 would score a green light.

Some contained as much as two teaspoons of sugar per serve “despite being sold as a weaning food” it said, calling for “misleading on-pack marketing claims to be removed – especially around ‘no added sugar/refined sugar’, when such ingredients are replaced by fruit concentrates, which are still a type of free sugar and should be limited”.

The charity zeroed in on Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks, for instance, which contain 8.7g of sugar per serve despite “claims about added vitamins and minerals on pack”, and Organix’s Banana Soft Oaty Bars, which contain 8.1g sugar per serve and are sweeted with apple juice concentrate. 

A Heinz spokeswoman said sugar reduction was “a key focus for Heinz for Baby and we are looking into ways to improve the products we make”.

”Alongside the original rusks, Farley’s offer a range of reduced sugar rusks with 30% less sugar. The level of added sugars in these recipes is kept to a minimum consistent with the need to provide a texture which dissolves easily to avoid the risk of choking. Farley’s Rusks are very different from typical biscuits, containing very little fat and no added salt.”

Organix head of food development Emily Day added: ”The majority of the sugar content within Organix Soft Oaty Bars comes from dried fruit which contains naturally occurring sugars. The fruit juice concentrate used is to hold all the ingredients together, provide flavour and to give a suitable texture for a child.

The brand “believes in using natural ingredients such as dried fruit which has the nutritional benefits of fibre, vitamins and minerals rather than using artificial sweeteners or table sugar. We share our full recipe and nutritional content per portion and per 100g on back of pack”.

“As a brand we are constantly looking at natural ways to reduce sugar and are excited to share new news on this in 2022,” she added.

Action on Sugar also highlighted five Kiddylicious products, which scored the worst for sugars per 100g, such as its Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers, which carry claims around offering one of the five a day and containing no artificial additives, but contain 59g per 100g, while its Kiddylicious Pineapple, Coconut & Mango Juicy Fruit Bars contain 30.7g per 100g.

A Kiddylicious spokeswoman said: “The Kiddylicious products highlighted in this report are sweetened by fruit, which naturally does contain sugar. We pack all of our snacks in portion-controlled bags for tinier tummies. This helps parents to moderate consumption and also ensures that the nutritionals are of appropriate levels for children.”

Baby food brands are not currently required to display traffic light labels. 

Action on Sugar has urged the government to “finally publish its long-awaited composition guidelines for baby and toddler products which will guide manufacturers on how much sugar should be used – making them mandatory in order to create a level playing field across the sector”.

It was “ludicrous that certain food companies are being allowed to promote their high sugar sweet snacks to parents with very young children”, said Action on Sugar campaign lead and research fellow at Queen Mary Univerisity Dr Kawther Hashem.

“Babies can have a preference for sweet foods, due to milk being ever so slightly sweet, but liking sugary foods is something they only learn by eating sugary foods. Some companies choose to encourage this preference further by providing lots of very sweet products from an early age. What we need is companies to make products with minimal amount of sugars, so young children can grow up enjoying less sweet foods.”

It comes amid recent calls from youth campaign group Bite Back 2030 for big fmcg brands to ditch “misleading” claims Bite Back said were being used to market HFSS products to teenagers.