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Dentists call for sweeping action on baby pouches

We are calling for action on the obscene levels of sugar in many popular brands of baby food pouches to protect children’s oral health.

These pouches have surged in popularity among parents, owing to their convenience. Beyond encouraging a preference for sweet tastes - which carries lifelong health risks – we are warning that they carry oral health risks when compared to foods available via jars. Contents are often sucked directly from the pouch, ensuring the food spends more time in contact with baby teeth, just as they are erupting and putting teeth at risk of erosion and decay.

We believe there is a lack of clear messaging from manufacturers not to consume products straight from the pouch in both packaging and their wider marketing collateral, with brands such as Annabel Karmel explicitly stating “eat straight from the pouch.”

Our research into 109 pouches aimed at children under 12-months-old found:

  • Over a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca Cola, with parents of infants as young as four months marketed pouches that contain the equivalent of up to 150% of the sugar levels of the soft drink. Those pouches are without exception fruit-based mixes.
  • 'Boutique' brands appear to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own brand alternatives, with market leaders Ella's Kitchen and Annabel Karmel coming in for criticism. While high levels of 'natural' sugar have been described by manufacturers as inevitable with fruit-based pouches, some brands offer products based on similar ingredients that contain around half the levels of sugar of the worst offenders.
  • Some products examined aimed at four months plus contain up to two thirds of an adult's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar. Neither the World Health Organisation (WHO) nor the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) cite an RDA for children, simply stressing that as little should be consumed as possible.
  • Both UK and WHO guidance recommends weaning from six months old, so no products should be allowed to be marketed as 'four months plus'. Nearly 40% of products examined were marketed at this age group.
  • The sector has consistently adopted disingenuous language highlighting the presence of only "naturally occurring sugars" or the absence of "added sugars", with others making opaque claims of products being "nutritionally approved" or in line with infants' "nutritional and developmental needs". All high sugar products adopt 'halo labelling' principles, focusing on status as 'organic', 'high in fibre' or 'containing 1 of your 5 a day', misleading parents into thinking they are making healthy choices.
  • Over two thirds of the products examined exceeded the 5g of sugar per 100ml threshold set for the sugar levy applied to drinks. Dentists stress expansion of fiscal measures would likely have favourable outcomes in terms of encouraging reformulation.

“These products sadly risk hooking the next generation before they can even walk.” said BDA Chair Eddie Crouch.

“Claims of ‘no added sugar’ are meaningless when mums and dads end up delivering the lion’s share of a can of Coke to their infants. Ministers need to break the UK’s addiction. They must ensure sugar becomes the new tobacco, especially when it comes to our youngest patients.”

The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to consult imminently on the marketing and labelling of infant foods, to which we will respond.

We will continue to call for action, including confronting the tactics used by sales teams, implementation of a clearer ‘traffic light’ style for labelling, and potentially expansion of fiscal measures such as the Sugar Levy to encourage reformulation.