Parents sweet-talked into sugar-laden toddler snacks

13 Nov 2019

Leading health groups call for mandatory added sugar labelling on products 

A new survey has found toddler products boasting nutrition claims and real fruit elements are high in sugar and packed with processed ingredients.

The Obesity Policy Coalition recently examined 57 toddler snacks for sale at major supermarkets to highlight just how pervasive added sugar is in these products.

Nutrition guidelines recommend limiting the consumption of added sugars in toddlers’ diets because of the associated health risks.

Currently, there is no clear labelling of added sugars on packaging so it’s impossible to distinguish between what is naturally occurring sugar from whole fruit or dairy and when it is added to sweeten foods.

Cancer Council Victoria dietitian Alison McAleese who undertook the analysis said toddler snacks are frequently sweetened with processed fruit ingredients which are high in sugar.

They bear little resemblance to the original fruit from which they were derived and fall in the category of ingredients parents of toddlers should be restricting.

“What many people don’t realise is that sugar sourced from fruit in these products can be highly processed and should in fact be labelled as added sugar. Most of the products we surveyed had ambiguous and inconsistent ingredient names. Parents currently don’t have the information they need to make informed decisions about foods to purchase for their children.”

The analysis found:

• Nearly half of the products surveyed contained over 25% sugar, with up to six different sweet ingredients contributing to the total sugar content.

• Half (51%) the products surveyed had a statement about fruit or included fruit in their name.

• Nearly half (47%) had an image of whole fruit on the pack.

• In the sweet cereal finger food category – 38 different types of fruit ingredients were used.

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition Jane Martin said food companies are taking advantage of busy parents, using sneaky marketing tactics to entice them into buying unhealthy products.

“You wouldn’t give your toddler lolly snakes, and yet many parents are being tricked into buying sugar-laden snacks dressed up as healthy. Given the amount of sugar, it’s virtually the same thing.”

“Parents deserve to know what’s really in the products they’re feeding their kids. Currently, that is hard to do as added sugars are not grouped together on the ingredients list or listed separately on the nutrition information panel. With 40 different names for sugar, even the ingredients list can’t always be relied upon to help parents make an informed choice.”

Many of the products in the OPC’s analysis boasted promises of ‘real fruit’ on the packaging or colourful pictures of fruit, adding a healthy halo to entice parents. However, many of the fruit ingredients were highly processed and high in sugar.

For example, Kiddylicious Raspberry Crispie Tiddlers are 63.4% sugar and contain apple juice and apple puree concentrate and raspberry juice concentrate.

Mamia Strawberry fruit and oat bars are 40.4% sugar and contain 62% fruit paste which includes pear puree concentrate, apple juice concentrate, strawberry puree concentrate and elderberry juice concentrate.

Heinz Little Kids Wholegrain cereal bars apple and blueberry are 41.1% sugar and are made up of 30% fruit filling, nearly a quarter of which comes from fruit paste. However, there is no further explanation as to what fruit paste is, making it difficult to decipher the source of the sugar.

With food ministers meeting on Friday (15 November), health advocates are urging them to use this as an opportunity to make added sugar labelling mandatory to help not just parents, but everyone, to know how much sugar is added to the products they buy.

Advocates also support a broad definition of added sugars which includes sugars derived from fruit concentrates and fruit juice ingredients.

“People are in the dark about sugars added to food, they deserve to have the information that they need, especially parents."

“We owe it to our youngest Australians to give them the best opportunity for a healthy start in life”, Ms Martin said.

About the analysis:

The survey examined toddler snack foods for age ranges 1-5 for sale at Woolworths, Coles and Aldi. The data on the nutrition information panel, ingredients list, packaging statements and images were recorded. Ingredients of the snack food categories where sugar content was found to be greater than 4% were further analysed.