Australian families are in the dark when it comes to ready-made baby and toddler foods, with the majority falsely believing that they are strictly regulated, according to Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) survey.
“We found that most parents believe there are laws about what can be put in ready-made foods for babies and toddlers to ensure these products are healthy,” paediatrician and poll director Dr Anthea Rhodes said in a release.
“In fact, this is not the case in Australia, with limited regulation of these products for babies and no specific regulations for toddler products.”
For instance, when the Australian government updated labelling requirements, many products are only voluntarily required to display country of origin labelling from July 2018.
While products are stated that they are Australian-made, there is now little transparency as to how much of what goes into them is actually locally sourced.
RCH’s survey of 1,023 parents of children under five years also found that one in five ate commercial ready-made foods most days, with a further one in three having these foods at least once a week.
Because they are marketed as natural and healthy, many parents are easily misled into believing that they are a healthy choice for their baby.
“We found that 73 percent of parents believe that ready-made baby and toddler foods provide good nutrition for their children. This is a really concerning finding,” Rhodes said.
“These foods often contain high levels of harmful sugars, which can affect a child’s taste preferences for life and put them at risk of ongoing high sugar intake. This can cause tooth decay, unhealthy weight gain, and other health problems.”
Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, added that she would like to see greater restrictions on labelling and promotion of baby foods to support parents to make fully informed choices.
“Currently, manufacturers of products for our youngest consumers are hoodwinking parents, marketing baby and toddler ready-made foods as nutritious, when many are far from it,” Martin said.
“We need government measures to stop companies using potentially misleading labelling and promotions while limiting ingredients such as harmful sugars that are often added to these foods.”