Average of nine promotional claims on UK baby food packaging: study

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On average, 9 promotional claims can be found on individual UK baby food packaging, finds research based on a selection of products and published online in the Archives of childhood illnesses.

These claims are largely unregulated and often involve indirect health benefits, known as the “healthy halo effect,” which can be confusing for parents, researchers say.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the establishment of standards for the promotion of commercial baby foods to align with best practice recommendations for infant feeding.

And the UK government has passed new legislation to restrict the online advertising of foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar to encourage children to adopt healthy eating habits.

But in the absence of regulations and legally binding guidelines for the composition and promotion of baby food manufactured in the UK and EU, it’s kind of free for everyone in the middle of the surge in sales, according to the researchers.

The UK manufactured baby food market is expected to grow to £1bn (€1.19bn: $1.35bn) by 2024, growing 2.5% year-on-year, point out- they.

The researchers therefore wanted to explore the use and nature of promotional claims on manufactured baby food products intended for infants up to 12 months of age in the UK and test associations between product features and claims. formulated.

They searched the online or in-store supply of baby food made in 7 major UK supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons plus Amazon – in June and September 2020.

They collected information on brand name, type of packaging, content in net weight (g), target age, product name, type of food (wet, dry), type of product (e.g., snack, mash), the type of promotional claim and the claim message.

Promotional claims were categorized as health, nutrients, composition and marketing. Marketing claims were further divided into those regarding baby-directed weaning (encourages self-feeding), convenience, meeting dietary goals, recommendations, feeding ideals, lifestyle, quality, texture, taste and others.

A total of 724 products from 34 brands were registered, of which more than half (56%) were sweet (404), 42% savory (303) and 2% sweet-salty and neutral (17).

Two-thirds (68%, 493) of products were classified as wet, compared to around one-third (32%, 231) who were classified as dry.

Snacks accounted for nearly three-quarters (73%) of dry foods, followed by cereals (22%). Wet spooned products packaged in sachets represented 35% of the products surveyed, followed by dry products packaged in packaging (26%), jars (13%), 12% sold in the form of meal trays and other packaging (14% ) .

A total of 6265 promotional claims were identified on the 724 products. Almost all products carried marketing claims (99%) on the packaging, followed by composition claims (97%) and nutrition claims (85%); only 6% of products (41) carried direct health claims.

The average number of total claims on each product was 9, with marketing claims totaling 5, on average. But there were as many as 17 promotional claims on a single product.

Marketing claims mainly referred to texture (84%) and taste (70%). The top composition claim was organic (63%, 457) while nutrition claims were mostly about “no added” or “less” sugar (58%, 422) and salt (57%, 417).

Baby-directed weaning claims were found on 72% of snacks, with significantly more such claims on snacks (99%) than on other product types. But promoting snacking habits as early as 6 to 12 months is questionable, given their potential to encourage overeating and obesity, the researchers say.

While health claims were only found on 16% (38) of baby foods classified as dry and 0.6% (3) of wet spoon products, dry products, which included snacks and breakfast cereals, carried the most (94%, 51) of all health claims made (54).

The role of iron in supporting normal cognitive development was the most common health claim.

The widespread use of unregulated promotional claims on manufactured baby foods is concerning, the researchers say, pointing out some potential problems for the claims made.

For example, “vegetable taste” suggests that the food is made of vegetables when in reality the ingredients could be a combination of fruits and vegetables with a mostly sweet taste.

“Since food preferences are formed early in life and infants have an innate preference for sweet and salty foods, the promotion of sweet [baby foods] containing a large amount of sugar could be detrimental. Additionally, it can contribute to high energy consumption and dental caries,” they write.

“Dietary goals of fruit and vegetable consumption (5 servings a day) are given for children from the age of 2; thus, the opportunity to promote claims such as ‘contributes to your 2-of-5’ or ‘contains 1- of -5’ remains debatable,” they add.

“Endorsements such as ‘Nutritionist Approved’ or ‘Dietitian Approved’ have been widely used, but the meaning of these endorsements in terms of nutrient quality or the veracity of health claims is not entirely clear and requires further examination,” they continue.

The researchers acknowledge that their study provides “just a snapshot of a fluid [commercial baby food] market”, while promotional claims were identified from online images from retailer websites which may not be current.

But they conclude: “The promotional claims on [commercial baby food] packaging is widely used, which might mislead parents. The unrestricted use of “halo health” messages and mentions on the packaging of [commercial baby foods] calls on policy makers and stakeholders to update guidelines, legislation and policies to protect this vulnerable demographic group so that infant feeding recommendations are not undermined.”

The range of commercial infant foods has grown significantly over the past seven years

More information:
Extensive use of promotional claims on commercial baby food packaging in the UK, Archives of childhood illnesses (2022). DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2021-322851

Provided by British Medical Journal

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