Parents in Northern Ireland have been urged to be more vigilant to the sugary and fatty food they may be unwittingly feeding their babies and young children after some products were exposed as being less nutritious than cheeseburgers and chocolate biscuits.
The Parents’ Advice Centre in Belfast have issued a warning to mums and dad about the importance of checking the contents of some foods after a new campaign revealed that more than 50 products aimed at the infant and children’s market contained higher-than-suggested levels of saturated fat, salt or sugar.
According to the Children’s Food Campaign, led by Sustain, just one quarter of the foods produced by trusted manufacturer Heinz met the recommended nutritional standards while as many as one-in-nine foods made by Cow & Gate were high in sugar.
Cow & Gate announced it was withdrawing its Bear, Berry Bear and Animal Friends biscuits range from shop shelves from June because they contained high levels of hydrogenated fat — which can cause high cholesterol. Hydrogenated fats result from a process designed to harden the fats in products and improve shelf life. However, it creates trans fats which are thought to contribute to heart disease.
Cow & Gate said: “In discussion with the Food Standards Agency we have already taken the decision to discontinue our baby biscuits, when we became aware of the presence of hydrogenated fat, which contains a very small amount of trans fats.”
A spokesman for the Wiltshire-based company said it had set nutritional standards for products that were much tighter than legal requirements and more than 90% of its range contained only naturally occurring sugars.”
The campaign has also raised questions over Farley’s Original Rusk, which has been used to wean babies for more than 120 years.
Sustain found that the biscuit made by Heinz contains 29% more sugar than McVitie’s dark chocolate digestives. However, Heinz said the rusks contained very little fat and, in keeping with nutritional needs of infants, contained no added salt.
Another alleged offender, also made by Heinz, is Toddler’s Own mini cheese biscuits, which contain more saturated fat than a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese.
Pip Jaffa, chief executive of the Parents’ Advice Centre, said families must be aware of exactly what they are buying. “I would imagine that some parents are surprised and shocked at the contents of some products. Parents must be alert to what sugary and fatty substances are in the food they are giving to their babies. Our advice would be for parents to talk to their health visitor and to take guidance from them on what to give babies.”
Christine Haigh, joint co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign run by Sustain, described the results as staggering.
“Many foods marketed for babies and young children are often advertised as ‘healthy’. In reality, in terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food. In particular, failing correctly to label products that contain dangerous trans fats is outrageous,” she said.
My View: It’s difficult to know who to trust
By Helen Carson
Another day, another health scare for parents, this time it’s the food we’re feeding our children.
First there were fears concerning ‘tried and trusted’ medicines such as some cough mixtures and Bonjela, which have been relied upon by mums for years when it came to their children’s health.
Now the latest findings cast doubt on the nutritional value of baby biscuits, some of which are laden with hydrogenated fat, salt or sugar.
My question to the health experts would be: why has it taken so long to establish the health risks associated with these products?
Cow & Gate, which has withdrawn some of its baby biscuits from the market following the most recent revelation, is a massive name in baby nutrition.
As a parent it is difficult to know who to trust in this industry, where research and development should be priority number one.
Of course, science is always finding out new things we need to know about, and that is progress.
But for young children who were weaned on these products, are there any long-term health risks waiting for them?
Over the past 20 years, more and more specialised products and medicines have been systematically demoted from prescription-only to over the counter.
There was a time when even paracetamol required a prescription. Now you can pick it up at the corner shop or supermarket with relative ease.
Surely infant nutrition, which is highly specialised, should be put back where it belongs — in a pharmacy where healthcare experts can advise parents on exactly what they are feeding their kids.