Call for Removal of Misleading Sugar Claims on Baby & Toddler Sweet Snacks

News

  Posted by: The Probe      10th November 2021

…such as Biscuits and Rusks.

A new product survey by Action on Sugar (based at Queen Mary University of London) has exposed the alarming amounts of sugars found in many baby & toddler sweet snacks such as biscuits, rusks, oat bars and puffs. With some products containing a massive two teaspoons of sugar per serve,[i] this is of deep concern considering babies and toddlers should not be eating any free sugars at all [ii] In fact, children aged between the ages of 1.5 and 3 years are exceeding 27.9g (equivalent of 7 teaspoons) of free sugars per day, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

To mark Sugar Awareness Week (8-14 November), the group of experts is 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 sugars and should be limited).[iii]

Action on Sugar is also urging the Government to finally publish its long-awaited composition guidelines for baby & toddler products which will guide manufacturers on how much sugars should be used – making them mandatory in order to create a level-playing field across the sector.

The product survey, which analysed 73 baby and toddler sweet snacks sold in stores, found Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original to be the worst offender with 8.7g of sugars per serve – that’s the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugar! Despite the health claims about added vitamins and minerals on pack, this product also contains added sugar. This was followed by Organix Banana Soft Oaty Bars at 8.1g of sugars per serve which are sweetened with apple juice concentrate (a type of free sugars).

When it comes to sugars per 100g – a third (27 of the 73) of the products surveyed would receive a red (high) label for sugars if baby and toddler foods carried traffic light labelling on front of pack.

Rather worryingly, five Kiddylicious products scored the worst for sugars per 100g:

Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers are made up of over half sugars (59g per 100g), while Kiddylicious Pineapple, Coconut & Mango Juicy Fruit Bars are nearly a third sugars (30.7g per 100g).

Only six products out of 73 (8%) would get a green (low) label for sugars.

Currently, there is a gap in legislation for labelling baby and children’s food & drink with front of pack traffic light labelling which means these products are not required to display them. Yet all the products surveyed that would be red (high) for sugars (under the current traffic light system) also featured a claim that could be distracting and possibly misleading‘Packed with vitamins and minerals’ or ‘Made with real fruit’ – despite containing added sugar, fruit juice concentrates or similar – all of which are free sugars and considered harmful to health.

High and low sugars examples are in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Baby & Toddler sweet snacks with highest and lowest from each category in sugars per 100g

Product Name Sugars (g) Per
 100g
Age Guidance (months) Front of Pack Claims Ingredients*
Baked/Hard texture  
Highest Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original 29 7+ ·         Golden baked goodness

·         Packed with 7 key vitamins & minerals including iron and calcium

Wheat Flour, Sugar, Sustainable Palm Oil, Raising Agents (Ammonium Carbonates), Calcium Carbonate, Emulsifier (Monoglycerides), Niacin, Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin A, Vitamin D
Lowest Nestle Cerelac Wheat Raspberry & Banana Cereal Snack 2.8 8+ ·         Organic Organic Rice Semolina 45%, Organic Wheat Flour 41%, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Banana Powder 3%, Organic Raspberry Powder 1.2%, Acidity Regulator (Calcium Carbonate), Thiamin (B1), Antioxidant (Tocopherol-Rich Extract)
Baked/soft texture  
Highest Kiddylicious Apple Fruity Bakes 33 12+ ·         Made with real fruit

·         Whole wheat flour

·         No artificial preservatives

Whole Wheat Flour (39%), Apple Filling (35%) (Apple Purée (67%), Apple Juice Concentrate (33%)), Apple Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Oil, Rice Flour, Raising Agent: Bicarbonate of Soda, Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Lowest Piccolo Mighty Oaty Bars Banana & Cocoa 18.3 12+ ·         Organic

·         No added sugar

·         No added salt

·         Gluten free

·         Fibre

·         Perfect for lunchboxes

Organic Gluten Free Oat flakes 41.5%, Organic Apple Juice 26%, Organic Inulin (from Agave) 9%, Organic Sunflower Oil High Oleic 8%, Organic Banana Powder 7%, Organic Quinoa Flakes 3%, Organic Rice Crisp 2%, Organic Coconut Milk 2%, Organic Cocoa 1.5%, Organic Antioxidant: Rosemary Extract <1%
Puffed/Aerated texture  
Highest Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers 59 12+ ·         1 of 5 a day

·         Gluten Free

·         No artificial additives

·         Packed with real fruit

Apple juice concentrate 35%, Pear juice concentrate 35%, Banana puree 17%, Puffed rice 8%, Banana flakes 3.5%, Natural flavouring, Gelling agent (pectin), Citrus fibre, Lemon juice concentrate
Lowest Kiddylicious Blueberry Rice Crispy Sticks 3.1 18+ ·         No added salt

·         Gluten and nut free

Rice Crisps (Rice Flour, Rice Wholemeal Flour) (41%), Sunflower Seeds (19%), Inulin (Chicory Fibre), Quinoa Crisps (Quinoa Flour, Rice Flour) (8%), Sunflower Oil, Acacia Fibre, Blueberry (1.6%), Natural Flavouring, Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

*Sweetening ingredients are in bold

What’s more, a quarter of the products (36 out of 73) surveyed claim on-pack that their sweet snacks are suitable for babies under the age of 12 months even though sugar sweetened food and drink should be avoided in this age group.[iv]

Following a public opinion poll by Action on Sugar of 1,000 parents with young children (aged between 1-3 years old) to gain insights on what motivates them when choosing products for their babies:

  • Over 8 out of 10 (84%) said they buy these so called ‘healthy’ baby & toddler sweet snacks for their children.
  • 6 out of 10 (60%) say that a ‘no added sugar’ claim would be the reason for choosing a particular product.[v]
  • 92% said they were more inclined to buy products containing ‘natural sources’ of sugars (e.g. fruit).

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar and Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London says,

“It’s ludicrous that certain food companies are being allowed to promote their high sugar sweet snacks to parents with very young children, despite them being aware that babies and toddlers shouldn’t be having any free sugars.

“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.”

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar explains,

“Using healthy-sounding claims on sugary foods is normalising sweet snacks at a young age.  Given just a few baby & toddler sweet snacks would be considered low in sugar, the Government must release their long-awaited commercial baby food and drink guidelines and make them mandatory to hold all companies to the same standard. The Government must also investigate the best way of labelling foods for babies and toddlers to provide better and more honest packaging for parents.”

Dr Linda Greenwall, founder of the Dental Wellness Trust says,

“The latest dental survey from Public Health England 2019 showed that over 23% of children in England have dental decay. This can lead to tooth ache, pain, infection and early tooth loss, which isn’t just detrimental to a child’s dental health but has a knock-on impact to their development, nutrition and growth.  Dental decay is preventable, it’s caused by too much sugar and not enough brushing.  We are very concerned about children’s dental health and the impact of covid. With challenges accessing dental care and increased consumption of sugary snacks, we fear that oral health in this country has declined. 

We want to empower children with the knowledge about the negative impact that sugar has and allow them to make the right choices for their health. Reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and snacks is essential for the fight against dental decay, childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar adds,

“Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis means we’re eating too many calories.  If we don’t use those calories as fuel, our body will store them as fat. This can lead to weight gain, and if this happens to our children, it’s likely they will carry the weight into their adolescent and adult years, potentially leading to overweight or obesity, as well as suffering from agonising tooth decay. It is therefore imperative that food companies act more responsibly and commit to reformulate sugar, salt and calorie reduction instead of foisting unhealthy products with misleading nutrition claims upon well-meaning parents.”

[i] Survey details:

  • Data Collection: 

All major stockists and retailers were visited in person. (Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Lidl, Co-op, Boots, Holland & Barret, Waitrose & Partners, Marks & Spencer).  Products were purchased in stores between 9th and 23rd June 2021 and uploaded to the FoodSwitch database to record their nutrition content.

  • Data Analysis:

Inclusion and exclusion criteria were defined as follows:

Included Excluded​
Baby & Toddler Biscuits​
-Teething biscuits​
-Rusks​
-Baby rice cakes​
Savoury foods/flavours ​
-Crisps​
-Nuts​
-Popcorn*​
Initial online search criteria:​
-Children’s biscuits ​
-Children’s snacks  ​
-Baby & Toddler Snacks  ​
-‘Kids’​
Processed fruit snacks /bars, Cakes*, flapjacks*, Breakfast bars*, Baking kits​
Any sweet snack product with age criteria on packaging (0-36 months)​

Cakes, flapjacks etc​

Child friendly/targeted packaging (e.g. Iced Gems, Cadbury Animals)​
Popcorn if age guidance included​
e.g. 12month +​
Sweet and chocolate confectionery  ​

*See inclusion criteria for exceptions

After initial analysis the products were further split into the following sub-categories based on product texture: 

  1. Baked/Soft texture-including flapjacks/soft bakes/oat bars  
  2. Baked/Hard texture-including biscotti/rusks 
  3. Puffed/Aerated texture-including popcorn/rice cakes/wafers  

Data was shared with almost all manufacturers and comments were requested. Following this correspondence we removed two Asda products as they had been delisted. We contacted Kiddylicious to confirm sugar content of their ‘Banana Fruity Puffs’- we received no response and they were removed from the data set.

[ii] SACN (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725530/SACN_report_on_Feeding_in_the_First_Year_of_Life.pdf

[iii] Swan et al, 2018. A definition of free sugars for the UK:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962881/

Free sugars include:

  • all added sugar (including honey, syrups and nectars) whether that is added during manufacturing or after
  • lactose and galactose added to food and drinks
  • all sugars in juice (excluding dairy-based drinks)
  • all sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purées, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products.

[iv] There is a need for better understanding of the risks associated with free sugars in foods given to infants in first foods, there are currently no recommended daily maximum guidelines for those under 4 as sugar sweetened food and drink should be avoided in this age group. SACN (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725530/SACN_report_on_Feeding_in_the_First_Year_of_Life.pdf

[v] The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 1000 respondents aged 16+ in the UK between 18/10/2021 – 21/10/2021. The survey was conducted from a nationally representative of UK adults. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.


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