Why babies are getting a sweet tooth - and how to stop it happening

·5-min read
Cute sweet blonde child, playing and eating donuts at home
Looking through them is better than eating them, to be fair. (Getty Images)

Processed baby and toddler foods may contain so much sugar they are encouraging infants to develop a sweet tooth, according to a new study.

Action on Sugar analysed 73 baby and toddler food products available in Britain, and found that 37% of the products tested were "red" or "high" sugar on the traffic-light labelling system. 

Branded mini rusks, regularly given to babies to help with teething, contain the equivalent of two teaspoons of sugar per serving, while Organix Banana Soft Oaty Bars, which are sweetened with apple juice concentrate, have the same. Just six of the products earned a "green" or "low" label on sugar.

Yet almost half the products analysed carried packet claims that they were 'suitable for babies under 12 months'.

This is the age when weaning happens, and teething begins - numerous studies have demonstrated the damaging impact of excess sugar on baby teeth, and even if the sugar comes from added fruit juice, it's bad for babies and small children, says Action on Sugar.

Asian baby girl eating rusk for snack
Some baby rusks contain two teaspoons of sugar (Getty Images)

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar, and Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London, said it was "ludicrous" that companies are able to promote high sugar products to parents of babies. 

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"Babies can have a preference for sweet foods, due to milk being ever so slightly sweet, but liking sugary foods is something they only learn by eating sugary foods," she explained.

"Some companies choose to encourage this preference further by providing lots of very sweet products from an early age. What we need is companies to make products with minimal amount of sugars, so young children can grow up enjoying less sweet foods."

Parenting expert Kirsty Ketley says: "The easiest way to cut back sugar is to make snacks and meals from scratch as much as possible. That way you know exactly what's in them.

"Snacks like chopped apple or other fruit, oatcakes and peanut butter, hummus or cream cheese, homemade vegetable muffins or oaty bars are a few good suggestions for toddlers."

Waist up shot of a baby boy eating a fresh carrot from a backyard vegetable garden
Yes to carrots, no to donuts. (Getty Images)

"Sugar-filled snacks should be given in moderation, as part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle and not relied upon as a daily thing," she adds.

Parents do rely a lot on pre-made meals and snacks, she adds, due to time pressure, and "it is absolutely right that the companies who make them should be held accountable.

"Parents buy their products thinking that the companies have their child's nutritional needs covered - it's very misleading. This is another thing to make parents feel like they are getting it wrong, when they are perhaps really trying to get it right."

Read more: What to do when your kid decides to be a vegan

Ketley also thinks that better education for parents on good child nutrition would be a help. 

"Many parents who I consult with about weaning do not possess the skills to cook, or feel that they don't have the time to make meals from scratch, and because there are so many easy alternatives, they reach for those instead - often ending up giving their children too much salt and sugar."

Closeup photograph of  little cute girl eating apple
"This is a very big sweet Mummy, are you sure?" (Getty Images)

Nutritionist Holly Gabriel, from Action on Sugar, also demanded better government regulation: "The Government must release their long-awaited commercial baby food and drink guidelines, and make them mandatory to hold all companies to the same standard.

"The Government must also investigate the best way of labelling foods for babies and toddlers to provide better and more honest packaging for parents."

Helen Burgess, a nutritionist and founder of Little Cooks Co, a healthy cooking subscription service for children, thinks supermarkets could do more to tackle the issue.

Read more: 8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day

"Sadly, many products aimed at young children are processed and loaded with sugar," she says. 

"This didn't used to be the case, but in the last 50 years, our supermarkets have become swamped with ultra processed convenience food that's doing real harm to the nation's health. 

"Childhood is a crucial time of development and growth and too much sugar does not aid this."

It's not just babies who eat too much sugar.

Unhealthily diet with sweet sugary soft drinks concept
Soft drinks are often packed with sugar. (Getty Images)

Drinks technology firm Air Up has released new research for Sugar Awareness Week, with some shocking findings.

Almost a quarter of Brits (22%) say sugar is their biggest vice in life, while 73% wrongly believe that the sugar ingested via drinks is not as bad as the sugar you eat, while 27% of Brits say their addiction to sugary drinks has had a detrimental impact on their health, from tooth decay to weight gain. 

Excess sugar intake can also lead to diabetes, obesity, heart problems and high blood pressure due to inflammation.

No wonder campaigners are hoping the message finally gets through. 

Watch: This is the adorable moment a father and son brushed each other's teeth

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