Ban baby foods with added sugar, urges the World Health Organisation

Commercially made products could damage teeth and create a preference for sweet foods, says the agency

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The World Health Organisation is recommending a ban on added sugars in baby foods for children younger than 36 months, warning that many products are incorrectly marketed as suitable for babies.

As part of a report released by WHO Europe, two new studies found that in three of four cities profiled, half or more of the baby products surveyed contained more than 30 per cent of their calories in total sugars.

"The very high level of free sugars in pureed commercial products is also cause for concern," the report remarked.

About a third of them listed sugar, concentrated fruit juice or other sweeteners as an ingredient, and could damage babies' first teeth and create a preference for sugary foods from a young age.

“Foods for infants and young children are expected to comply with various established nutrition and compositional recommendations. Nonetheless, there are concerns that many products may still be too high in sugars,” said Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European Office for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

The study examined more than 7,900 food or drink products marketed for infants and young children, sold in 516 stores spread across cities including Austria's Vienna, Bulgaria's Sofia and Hungary's Budapest.

A substantial proportion of the products sampled – between 28 per cent and 60 per cent – were marketed as suitable for babies under the age of six months, WHO found.

While permitted under European Union law, WHO recommended that food products to supplement breast milk or formula should not be marketed as suitable for babies under that age.

The agency's report instead recommended revised guideline for baby food, advising that all added sugars, including fruit juice concentrates, should be banned from commercial baby foods.

Fruit drinks, sweetened milk, sweets and sugary snacks should also not be marketed as suitable for infants and young children up to 36 months, WHO stated.

"It is really crucial you have products that are not only sweet products," said Dr Breda. "If babies are exposed to different tastes from the beginning, they will be more willing to try other things.”