More than half of foods (53 percent) targeted to toddlers in Canadian grocery stores contain an excessive amount of sugar, according to a new study published in the Journal of Public Health.
Funded by the Canadian Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the study examined sugar content of 186 foods marketed specifically for babies and toddlers – excluding fruit and vegetable purées – and found that 53 percent contained more than 20 percent sugar. The study’s author said the aim was to highlight the growing category of foods designed for toddlers beyond simple purées and juices, which includes puréed dinners and desserts, and toddler-targeted entrées, dinners, cereals and snacks.
Charlene Elliott, the study’s author and associate professor at the University of Calgary, said: "There is a presumed halo effect around baby and toddler foods because people expect these foods to be held to a higher standard. Yet this is not necessarily the case."
She added that it is challenging to assess sugar levels in foods for babies and toddlers as there is no universal standard. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a maximum daily sugar intake for adults of six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, but these recommendations do not extend to children or toddlers.
“In fact, the AHA has not published specific 'added sugar' recommendations for children or toddlers – even though high sugar foods are deliberately created for them,” Elliott said. “Health Canada, similarly, offers no direct recommendations – or cautions – regarding sugar intake or upper limits on the intake of added sugar for very young children, or for toddlers, per se."
The research also compared the nutritional profile of foods intended for toddlers with equivalent foods intended for adults. It found that the children’s foods were not nutritionally superior – and in terms of sugar content, some toddlers’ foods, such as cereal bars designed for toddlers, were worse.
Elliott concluded: “Baby and toddler foods are currently overlooked in the public, and public policy, discussions pertaining to dietary sodium and sugar. Yet these products are clearly of concern and should be closely monitored, since they promote a taste for ‘sweet’ and ‘salty’ in our youngest consumers.”
She also found that more than 12 percent of foods examined contained moderate to high amounts of sodium.
Source: Journal of Public Health
Published online ahead of print
“Sweet and salty: nutritional content and analysis of baby and toddler foods”
Author: Charlene Elliott