Alarming new research reveals ready-made baby and toddler foods can carry up to 20 marketing claims that trick consumers into believing these products are wholesome for little ones, when often they are not. On average, 8 claims were found on packaged foods for our youngest consumers.
The new researchi, led by Food for Health Alliance’s Andrea Schmidtke, shows 72% of packaged foods sold for babies and toddlers do not meet all nutrition standards for sugar, sweetness, sodium, fat and energy set by the World Health Organization’s Europe office.
This research, together with two other papers, will be presented in a symposium at the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society conference this week. The findings shed light on a critical issue: many ready-made baby and toddler foods that are high in sugar or salt are marketed heavily with on-pack claims, which make them sound like a good option.
Food for Health Alliance Executive Manager, Jane Martin, said Australian parents have a right to expect that foods for babies and toddlers are marketed responsibly, particularly given many are not as nutritious as they sound.
“Ready-made foods for babies and toddlers should give them the best start in life. But the processed food industry plasters these ready-made products with claims like ‘no added sugar’ or ‘free from flavours and colours’ that confer a ‘healthy halo’. This seductive marketing encourages care-givers to buy them, yet most of these products are unhealthy and are packed with processed ingredients, many high in sugar.” Ms Martin said.
Findings from a Cancer Council Victoria studyii, led by Associate Professor Helen Dixon, found that when unhealthy toddler foods display marketing claims like ‘free from preservatives’, this boosts parent's and carer's intentions to buy these products for their toddlers to eat.
“These findings show how marketing claims that highlight isolated positive features of otherwise unhealthy products can mislead consumers about the true contents of these foods. In the case of sugary infant and toddler food products, this is especially concerning as we know how important it is for lifelong health to set good nutrition foundations at an early age, when taste preferences are being shaped,” Associate Professor Helen Dixon explained.
Previously published, a third studyiii, led by Western Sydney University’s Dr Catharine Fleming, shows that only two out of 276 baby squeeze pouch products were assessed as nutritionally adequate using a tool that considers energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium.
“Baby squeeze or ‘spout’ pouches did not contain adequate nutrients, were high in sugar and not fortified with iron. They were often marketed as a ‘whole’ meal and carried claims like ‘organic’ or ‘natural or ‘no added sugar,” Dr Fleming said.
Food for Health Alliance’s Ms Martin said: “Parents should be able to trust that foods for babies and toddlers are nutritious and marketed responsibly. But the processed food industry’s main driver is maximising sales and profits.
“All three studies show the urgent need for regulation to limit deceptive claims and ensure foods for babies and toddlers provide good nutrition to support children’s health and wellbeing.”
 Schmidtke A. The Big Questions: WHO and how can the Australian regulatory framework better protect infants & toddlers? Presentation 3 in research symposium entitled: Not as good as they look: The reality of infant & toddler foods in Australia. Annual Scientific Meeting, Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society; Adelaide, Australia, October 19, 2023
 Dixon H. The Big Sell: Marketing of infant & toddler foods: effects on parents & carers. Presentation 2 in research symposium entitled: Not as good as they look: The reality of infant & toddler foods in Australia. Annual Scientific Meeting, Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society; Adelaide, Australia, October 19, 2023. This research was funded by a VicHealth Impact Research Grant.
 Fleming C. The Big Squeeze: The content and marketing of infant & toddler foods in pouches. Presentation 1 in research symposium entitled: Not as good as they look: The reality of infant & toddler foods in Australia. Annual Scientific Meeting, Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society; Adelaide, Australia, October 19, 2023