By Annisa Essack
Wits has collected and analysed the sugar content of 235 baby food items sold in major South African supermarkets, concluding that there’s an urgent need to start regulating sugar in baby foods.
A recent WITS study shows that South Africa has the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world, with an alarming figure of 13% whilst the global average stands at 6%.
This can be attributed to the rapid growth of the country’s commercial food industry which has led to an increase in consumption of easily accessible, cheap and ultra-processed foods, rich in sugar.
The study analysed the sugar content of commercially produced baby food products, including boxes of cereals and jars of processed food – targeted at children under 12 months and sold in supermarkets and other major retailers in South Africa. The items were also checked to see if the content had added sugar or free sugar that is usually found in processed foods.
The data collected was then compared to the recommended intake guidelines.
The findings were of concern as it was found that baby cereals contained added sugar, and was usually the first food given to babies after they have been weaned. Pureed fruit and desserts were also found to contain 20g or more per serving of sugar. This encourages a “sweet tooth” in children, i.e. a preference for foods that are sweet for the rest of their lives.
Sugar is the major culprit in childhood weight gain and obesity that is also the cause of preventable diseases later in life, e.g. diabetes, hypertension and cancer. It is also a contributor to increased tooth decay. In the long term, these products will contribute to the rising burden of non-communicable diseases and affect life expectancy.
The study concluded that there was an urgent need to start regulating sugar in baby food to resolve the childhood obesity crisis, thus the baby food industry needs to stop promoting the development of sweet preference from an early age.
The study highlighted that there was little information available to consumers on the ingredients used in baby foods. Furthermore, nutritional information was provided as per 100ml serving instead of teaspoons.
This hinders consumers from making informed choices about the content of the food they’re feeding to their infants without easily understandable labels of calorie and nutritional information.
The WHO’s recommendation is that the intake of free sugars should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake, the public can’t do so because of a lack of clearly understandable information.
Limiting sweet, processed baby foods in favour of healthier alternatives.
"O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, Halal and Tayyib and do not follow the footsteps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy."
(Surat al-Baqarah - 2:168)