Babies exposed to a high-sugar diet

16 June 2017
Gerhard Sundborn

A leading child health and obesity expert is warning babies are being weaned into a high sugar diet from as young as four months old – and the problem is being unheeded by health officials.

Dr Gerhard Sundborn, of the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health, says commercial baby foods that are high in sugar can cause as much risk of obesity and tooth decay as sugary drinks. And the risks are greater as sugary foods tend to start being given to babies before drinks.

“We are concerned that infants from four months of age are exposed to foods high in concentrated sugar as their first foods. Some commercial baby foods contain up to four teaspoons of sugar per serve,” Dr Sundborn says.

"Parents are trying to do the right thing and they are being mis-lead around what is healthy for their baby."

Dr Sundborn has made the claims in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal in a paper titled “New Zealand infants weaned onto a high sugar diet from four months old: better health or better business?”
 
In one example, a 120g pouch of  fruit puree contains 16g of sugar. This equates to four teaspoons of sugar and the package is labelled as a single serve.
 
On a visit to a local Auckland supermarket, of 33 single serve baby food products examined, 22 (66 percent) exceeded two teaspoons of sugar per serve. Of these, 11 contained two to three teaspoons of sugar, a further 10 items contained three to four teaspoons, and one product contained four teaspoons.
 
“What concerns us is that some of these products are endorsed by Plunket. This is confusing could mislead the New Zealand public and parents into thinking these products are healthy food items for their infants.”
 
“In Canada, the US and the UK, researchers, health professionals and health advocates have found that many commercially-prepared baby foods contain unacceptably high concentrations of sugar — with serving sizes that frequently exceed recommended daily allowances. Further, parents and people responsible for public policy tend to overlook this issue.”
 
He also comments that “Plunket is part of the fabric of NZ society and we can’t allow a situation where people begin to question their credibility.”
 
Dr Sundborn says he would like to see the New Zealand Ministry of Health establish an Infant Nutrition Advisory Group to prepare guidance about the ingredients of baby foods.

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