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A closer look at Public Health England’s report on ‘foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children’

15 min read

By Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reed 

In light of lots of press coverage recently around the Public Health England report foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children (published 27th June 2019), I wanted to look at the findings of the report as well as discuss some of the incredible work that Babease has been doing to ensure that their products tick as many boxes for parents AND Government as possible.

As a brand, Babease really understands how important the early years are in helping little ones to develop positive eating habits and to enjoy a wide variety of foods. It’s one of the reasons that I teamed up with Babease – we have the same mission – to help parents feel confident and clear about how to feed their babies. 

Who are Public Health England?

Public Health England (PHE) are a body funded by the Department of Health in the UK (Government funded), who are responsible for making the public healthier. They produce reports and reviews designed to improve the UK Government’s understanding of public health challenges, and to provide recommendations to help improve public health.

Essentially PHE provide support and expertise to the Government on any issues that may affect the health of the UK public. 

What did this report look at?

This latest report from Public Health England took a detailed look at the current foods commercially available in the UK for children between 0 and 3 years of age. The aim of this report was to advise on whether we need to make changes to the current food provided for this age group and, if so, what those changes might be. 

Ultimately the role of PHE is to try to ensure that foods available for young babies and children are in line with Government dietary recommendations for that age group. 

Why does it matter?

The reason that food provision for babies and toddlers’ matters is because we know from a wealth of research that the food that children are introduced to from a young age can have an impact on their food preferences, eating patterns and even their health risks later in life. 

There is a concept known as ‘the first 1000 days of life’, which is the time from conception, right through to a child’s second birthday. Research shows us that the foods children eat during the first 1000 days are likely to have an effect across the life course – “affecting diets, body weights, and disease risk throughout childhood and into adult life”. 

Commercial baby food might play a significant role in infants first experiences with food, and so the Government wants to ensure that the food on offer is going to support the development of healthy eating habits in young children. 

Why it matters to us? 

At Babease we take children’s health and wellbeing very seriously. We also take Government healthy eating advice and recommendations seriously too. We want to be honest and transparent with parents. Parenting is tough enough without feeling misled when it comes to foods you offer your baby. 

We also are very PROUD of what we do, and we know our products match up well to the recommendations in the report.

What did the report find? 

Below are some of the main findings from the report, taken directly from their press release:

  • Misleading product labelling and marketing encourages the introduction of solid food before official advice recommends
  • Some product names don’t reflect the balance of ingredients 
  • Some foods marketed as “healthy snacks” are amongst those with the highest sugar content
  • Sweet snacking is being encouraged
  • Products do not always provide clear feeding instructions

Additionally, the report highlighted other concerns including:

  • Salt as an ingredient in finger food and snacks
  • Added sugars (including fruit purees, powders and pastes) as an ingredient
  • Inconsistency around portion sizes
  • Recommendations to start weaning “from 4 months”

And lastly…

  • Despite the fact that advice is to start weaning with a focus on vegetables, the balance of products on the market is mainly fruit, including mixed fruits. 

Key Recommendations from the Report

As a result of their findings, the PHE report made the following recommendations to Government and also to commercial baby food and drink manufacturers:

  • Ensure product marketing is consistent with scientific advice to introduce solid foods at around 6 months of age 
  • Ensure honest labelling so that product names are not misleading and are aligned with the primary ingredients
  • Restrict use of nutrition and implied health claims and health halo statements 
  • Ensure that clear feeding instructions are present on the front of pack of products 
  • Ensure that products high in sugars are labelled as not being suitable for eating between meals

They also suggested that…

“a less sweet product mix would better prepare babies to accept a wide range of different, less sweet tastes and protect dental health”.

How do we meet PHE guidance?

Tom (Chef & Founder) says: "At Babease, we know that we have been meeting the recommendations of this PHE report years before it was published, from the very beginning! It is with an awareness of the issues mentioned in this report that inspired and guided me to make Babease the healthiest and most transparent baby food brand out there! I worked with Nutritionists and Dietitians from day-one to ensure that every product meets the highest standards set by us, and the government"

Of course, we take this report very seriously, and we are reassured to know that we are meeting current recommendations, as well as giving us focus in areas that we plan to improve!

How Babease meets the PHE guidance:

  • Market our stage one pouches from 6 months of age
  • Our product names always reflect the balance of our ingredients and we never hide fruits behind a savoury name. We believe that honesty and transparency is essential for parents gaining trust in our brand
  • We only use nutritional claims for organic and no added salt & sugar as we want consumers to be aware that we would never add salt or sugar to baby’s food. However, we don’t make claims about the nutritional composition of our products or suggest that our food is better than homemade!
  • We promote spoon feeding in communications with parents and we are looking for further ways to improve this point.
  • We do not add sugar to any of our snacks or pouches – just pureed fruit in 3 of our products.
  • Our finger foods are all savoury and we don’t add anything to make them sweet or use processed fruits to create them. 
  • Lastly the balance of our products reflects recommendations of veggies over fruits and less sweeter options – our range is predominately vegetable based, including lots of savoury and bitter veggies including kale, broccoli and cauliflower. 

As as brand, we always believe in working to improve what we do – there is no such things as perfection! We are our biggest critics and will always working to achieve the highest standards. 

So, there you have it. The Public Health England report in a nutshell (well, sort of)! 

 

Charlotte Stirling-Reed

Nutrition Consultant, Babease

BSc, MSc, RNutr. Specialist in maternal, infant and child nutrition.

www.srnutrition.co.uk