A survey of 109 food pouches, which are aimed at children under one year, has revealed that more than a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca-Cola.
Fruit-based pouches marketed for babies as young as four months old contained sugar levels the equivalent of up to 150% of the soft drink, according to the British Dental Association (BDA) study.
The BDA said some of the products misled parents into thinking they were making healthy choices by claiming they contained only “naturally occurring sugars” or “no added sugar”, or that they were “nutritionally approved” or in line with infants’ “nutritional and developmental needs”.
All products found to be high in sugar adopted so-called “halo” labelling, focusing on their “organic” status or that they were “high in fibre” or contained “1 of your 5 a day”, the report warned.
The report also highlighted the increased risk of tooth erosion and decay to infants as they often suck the food directly from the pouches.
BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Disingenuous marketeers are giving parents the impression they are making a healthy choice with these pouches. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Claims of ‘no added sugar’ are meaningless when mums and dads end up delivering the lion’s share of a can of Coke to their infants.
“Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, and sugar is driving this epidemic. These products sadly risk hooking the next generation before they can even walk.
“Ministers need to break the UK’s addiction. They must ensure sugar becomes the new tobacco, especially when it comes to our youngest patients.”
The BDA claimed Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel were two brands which appeared to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own-brand alternatives.
A spokeswoman for Annabel Karmel said: “Annabel Karmel’s organic purees are inspired by her much-loved homecooked recipes. They are specially designed for babies and contain 100% fruit with no added salt or sugar. The limited sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars found in the fruits used.”
An Ella’s Kitchen spokeswoman said: “At Ella’s Kitchen, we take infant nutrition very seriously and, since 2016, building on recommendations from Public Health England, we have been reducing the proportion of higher sugar fruits like bananas in our recipes, as well as introducing lower sugar fruits and 100% vegetable pouches, bringing down sugar on average across the range by 20%.
“Any new products aim to be 10% less sugar than the range average as a commitment to ongoing sugar reduction in stage 1 recipes.
“We do not advise that little ones consume our purees directly from the pouch, instead recommending that they be consumed from a spoon and eaten as part of a varied diet including lots of homemade foods.”
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The BDA said the excessive levels of sugar in many infant pouches warranted action, including clearer “traffic light” labelling and potential expansion of the sugar levy.
The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to consult imminently on the marketing and labelling of infant food.
A spokesman for the department said: “We have challenged businesses to improve the nutritional content of baby food and drink, as our review in 2019 found inconsistencies between national recommendations and the ingredients and nutritional content of these products.”