More than a spoonful of sugar - New research reveals the harmful sugars hiding in toddler snack foods

10 Aug 2021

New research published today by CHOICE has revealed many toddler snack products are packed with harmful sugars, are highly processed and often what's contained in the pack bears little resemblance to what's promised on the label. 

The review looked at 78 packaged meals and snacks marketed specifically for toddlers and found that over half of the products contained harmful sugars and nearly half were high in sugar, with at least fifteen grams of sugar per one hundred grams. 

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC), Jane Martin, said that the research highlighted how claims and labelling put on the packaging by processed food manufacturers confuses parents into thinking that these products are healthier than they are. In reality, these products are often high in sugar and are packed with cheap sweeteners - shaping children’s preferences from a very early age.  

All children deserve the best start in life. Foods that are developed for babies and toddlers should provide them with the nutrients they need for the critical early stages of their development, setting the foundation for a healthy future.”  

“But the processed food industry uses harmful sugar ingredients in foods for babies and toddlers and promotes these foods using claims and product names to make them appear healthy,” Ms Martin said. 

Regularly eating sugary foods puts children at risk of tooth decay, unhealthy dietary habits, a preference for sweet foods and unhealthy weight gain. As they grow older being above a healthy weight can lead to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. 

Ms Martin said that while the results were alarming, they were unsurprising given the lack of regulation around the composition, labelling and promotion of toddler foods. For example, there is currently no regulation to limit the amount of harmful sugars that can be added to commercial foods for toddlers, or babies. 

“Harmful sugars hide behind many names. But sugar is sugar, no matter where it’s from and what marketing spin it’s hiding behind. It doesn’t matter if it’s fruit concentrate, honey, dextrose, sugar cane, or any of the other sixty plus names it goes by.”  

“Parents deserve to know what’s really in products made for babies and toddlers and our Federal Government has a responsibility to step up and protect the health of our youngest consumers,” Ms Martin said. 

The OPC is calling on the government to protect our kids’ health by setting higher standards for the composition, labelling and promotion of baby and toddler foods. 

This includes regulation: 

  • to limit the amount of harmful sugars that can be added to commercial foods for babies and toddlers; 

  • to ensure harmful sugars are clearly defined and listed separately on the nutrition information panel; 

  • to ensure that the labelling of baby and toddler foods accurately reflects ingredients and does not confuse consumers; and 

  • to ensure that claims and promotional statements cannot be made on commercial baby and toddler foods. 

The worst offenders reviewed contained more than 60% sugar