The World Health Organisation's (WHO) European division has criticised the region's baby food market as it found a large proportion of products are high in sugar and incorrectly marketed for children under the age of six months. WHO has developed a draft Nutrient Profile Model (NPM) as a result to combat misleading marketed products.

WHO Europe developed a methodology for identifying commercial baby foods in retail settings, as well as collecting nutritional content data on labels, packaging and promotions, across 516 stores in four cities: Vienna, Austria; Sofia, Bulgaria; Budapest, Hungary; and Haifa, Israel.

Across the four cities, 28-60 per cent of products were marketed as being suitable for infants under the age of 6 months. This is permitted under European Union law, however does not take into consideration the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes or the WHO Guidance, which recommends that children should be breastfed, exclusively, for the first 6 months, and that commercial complementary foods should not be advertised for infants under 6 months of age.

WHO regional director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab says: “Good nutrition in infancy and early childhood remains key to ensuring optimal child growth and development, and to better health outcomes later in life – including the prevention of overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – thereby making United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages much more achievable.

"High sugar levels are of concern, as well as concentrated fruit juice and sweetening agents, which were found in around a third of products included in the study. WHO suggests theses added flavours and sugars “could affect the development of children’s taste preferences by increasing their liking for sweeter foods”, with “ the very high level of free sugars in puréed commercial products also cause for concern.”

The studies found sugar to make up an average of 70 per cent of total energy intake in fruit purées in the baby food market, despite the WHO recommending free sugars should account for less than 10 per cent of total energy intake for children

WHO/Europe has developed the NPM, which is designed to guide decisions about foods inappropriate for promotion for children for children aged 6–36 months. Recommendation in the report include:

  • Do not market fruit drinks and juices, confectionery and sweet snacks as suitable for infants and young children.

  • Prohibit added sugars – including concentrated fruit juice – in all baby foods.

  • Improve product labelling for total sugar and total fruit contents.

  • Ban misleading labelling and claims relating to sugar contents or product healthiness.

The NPM has been addressed to member states and stakeholders for consideration and further discussion.

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