Leading Health Organisations Call for the Health Secretary to Release Commercial Baby Food & Drink Guidelines

Action on Sugar, the expert group based at Queen Mary University of London, along with 16 NGOs[i] are today calling for the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, to release the much-awaited Commercial Baby Food and Drink Guidelines[ii] as data shows the main contributor of sugars in infants, aged four to nine months, is coming from shop brought baby foods – in particular fruit-based and cereal-based foods.[iii]

Introducing good nutrition early on is essential in developing a healthy relationship to, and preference for, healthy foods, and in supporting a baby’s future health.3 It is recommended infants (before the age of two) should avoid sugar sweetened drinks and food with added sugar[iv], and, after this, free sugars should provide no more than 5% of their daily energy intake (approximately 14g).3 However, shockingly, by the time children are 18 months, they are reportedly already consuming nearly 30g free sugars (7tsp) a day – the recommended maximum for an adult.[v],[vi]

Although many baby food brands are already reducing sugars, there are still products marketed as suitable for infants and young children with unsuitably high levels of sugars. As illustrated in Table 1, the range in total sugars levels in similar products can be a whopping 64g difference!

Table 1. Highest total sugars product vs lowest total sugars product found in the baby aisle per 100g, per category [vii]

Food Category Highest Total Sugars (g) per 100g Lowest Total Sugars (g) per 100g Difference (g) per 100g
Processed Fruit Snacks 70.0 6.4 63.6
Fruit Bar Snacks 61.0 10.0 51.0
Oat Bar Snacks 30.0 18.2 11.8
Hard Baked Snacks 29.0 2.5 26.5
Fruit Pouches 19.5 6.3 13.2
Prepared Baby Rice 12.0 8.3 3.7
Prepared Porridge 9.2 2.8 6.4
Puffed / Aerated Snacks 8.7 1.0 7.7
Rice Pudding 8.6 5.2 3.4
Vegetable Pouches 8.2 0.5 7.7


To improve the nutritional content of shop brought baby foods, releasing the guidelines is therefore essential. The consequences of an unhealthy diet in early years has a life-long impact on a person’s diet and health, which is why the commercial baby food and drink industry should do more to encourage a healthy diet.

In a Censuswide survey[viii] of 1,000 UK parents with children aged six to 36 months old, 91% said they support the Government in taking action to ensure all food and drinks available in the baby aisle are nutritionally appropriate according to NHS recommendations.

Three leading baby food companies[ix] have also signed an open letter to the Health Minister to call for the release of commercial baby food and drink guidelines, in order to create a level-playing field.

Zoe Davies (ANutr), Nutritionist at Action on Sugar says:

“Without doubt, both parents and children need to be supported for better health and it’s imperative that the baby food industry plays its part. The impact that good nutrition in early life has on someone’s future diet and health cannot be understated, which is why baby food guidelines are needed to ensure all food and drink products marketed to babies are nutritionally appropriate.”

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar and Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London adds:

“An unhealthy diet high in saturated fat, salt and sugar and low in fruit and vegetables is the biggest cause of preventable ill health globally. Given this, all food and drink companies should act responsibly and commit to improving their products as part of Government and NHS guidance and provide peace of mind for parents when buying foods for their young children.”


For parents looking for advice and support for weaning / feeding their children visit:  https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/weaning/ready-or-not/ 

[i] Open letter signed by:

  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
    London Early Years Foundation
    Early Years Alliance
    Obesity Health Alliance
    British Dental Association
    Oral Health Foundation
    World Cancer Research Fund
    Food Foundation
    British Society of Paediatric Dentistry
    Blood Pressure UK
    Diabetes UK
    Early Start Group
    Faculty of Public Health
    Food Active
    Association for the Study of Obesity
    The Dental Wellness Trust

[ii] Public Health England/The Department of Health and Social Care released their report on ‘Food and Drinks Aimed at Infant and Young Children: Evidence and Opportunities for Action‘ in 2019, and following this ‘Draft Guideline Proposals: Improving the Nutritional content of Commercial Baby Food and Drinks‘ consultation in 2020, with an initial goal for them to be achieved by 2023. http://www.babymilkaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/DRAFT-PHE-proposals-for-2023-commercial-baby-food-and-drink-guidelines.pdf

[iii] Foods and drinks aimed at infants and young children: evidence and opportunities for action June 2019. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/812204/Foods_and_drinks_aimed_at_infants_and_young_children_June_2019.pdf

[iv] Sugar: the facts. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/

[v] NDNS: results from years 9 to 11 (combined) – Data tables
Data Table – NDNS Y9_11_Descriptive statistics tables_Final-2

27.9g/day = 9.7%  

29.9/9.7*100 = 287.6g 

287.6*3.75 = 1078.5kcal  

5% of 1079kcal = 53.95kcal 

54/3.75 = 14.4g 

[vi] Children start to consume more products outside of the baby aisle from around 12 – 16 months based on feedback from the baby food industry. However, being exposed to sweet foods from the beginning of weaning encourages a greater preference to sweeter foods and may cause fussy eating later on

[vii] Data taken from FoodSwitch database to demonstrate range in sugar content for similar foods.
Snacks, Pouches, Rice Pudding data from Nov 22 – March 23
Baby Rice, Porridge data from August 2022

[viii] The research was conducted by Censuswide with 1004 UK Parents of children ages 6-36 months between 02.11.2022 – 03.11.2022. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles and are members of The British Polling Council.

[ix] Open letter signed by Babease, Little Dish and Little Freddie.

Call for Removal of Misleading Sugar Claims on Baby & Toddler Sweet Snacks

…such as Biscuits and Rusks.

A new product survey by Action on Sugar (based at Queen Mary University of London) has exposed the alarming amounts of sugars found in many baby & toddler sweet snacks such as biscuits, rusks, oat bars and puffs. With some products containing a massive two teaspoons of sugar per serve,[i] this is of deep concern considering babies and toddlers should not be eating any free sugars at all [ii] In fact, children aged between the ages of 1.5 and 3 years are exceeding 27.9g (equivalent of 7 teaspoons) of free sugars per day, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

To mark Sugar Awareness Week (8-14 November), the group of experts is calling for misleading on-pack marketing claims to be removed – especially around ‘no added sugar/refined sugar’ when such ingredients are replaced by fruit concentrates (which are still a type of free sugars and should be limited).[iii]

Action on Sugar is also urging the Government to finally publish its long-awaited composition guidelines for baby & toddler products which will guide manufacturers on how much sugars should be used – making them mandatory in order to create a level-playing field across the sector.

The product survey, which analysed 73 baby and toddler sweet snacks sold in stores, found Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original to be the worst offender with 8.7g of sugars per serve – that’s the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of sugar! Despite the health claims about added vitamins and minerals on pack, this product also contains added sugar. This was followed by Organix Banana Soft Oaty Bars at 8.1g of sugars per serve which are sweetened with apple juice concentrate (a type of free sugars).

When it comes to sugars per 100g – a third (27 of the 73) of the products surveyed would receive a red (high) label for sugars if baby and toddler foods carried traffic light labelling on front of pack.

Rather worryingly, five Kiddylicious products scored the worst for sugars per 100g:

Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers are made up of over half sugars (59g per 100g), while Kiddylicious Pineapple, Coconut & Mango Juicy Fruit Bars are nearly a third sugars (30.7g per 100g).

Only six products out of 73 (8%) would get a green (low) label for sugars.

Currently, there is a gap in legislation for labelling baby and children’s food & drink with front of pack traffic light labelling which means these products are not required to display them. Yet all the products surveyed that would be red (high) for sugars (under the current traffic light system) also featured a claim that could be distracting and possibly misleading‘Packed with vitamins and minerals’ or ‘Made with real fruit’ – despite containing added sugar, fruit juice concentrates or similar – all of which are free sugars and considered harmful to health.

High and low sugars examples are in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Baby & Toddler sweet snacks with highest and lowest from each category in sugars per 100g

Product Name Sugars (g) Per
Age Guidance (months) Front of Pack Claims Ingredients*
Baked/Hard texture  
Highest Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original 29 7+ ·         Golden baked goodness

·         Packed with 7 key vitamins & minerals including iron and calcium

Wheat Flour, Sugar, Sustainable Palm Oil, Raising Agents (Ammonium Carbonates), Calcium Carbonate, Emulsifier (Monoglycerides), Niacin, Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin A, Vitamin D
Lowest Nestle Cerelac Wheat Raspberry & Banana Cereal Snack 2.8 8+ ·         Organic Organic Rice Semolina 45%, Organic Wheat Flour 41%, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Banana Powder 3%, Organic Raspberry Powder 1.2%, Acidity Regulator (Calcium Carbonate), Thiamin (B1), Antioxidant (Tocopherol-Rich Extract)
Baked/soft texture  
Highest Kiddylicious Apple Fruity Bakes 33 12+ ·         Made with real fruit

·         Whole wheat flour

·         No artificial preservatives

Whole Wheat Flour (39%), Apple Filling (35%) (Apple Purée (67%), Apple Juice Concentrate (33%)), Apple Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Oil, Rice Flour, Raising Agent: Bicarbonate of Soda, Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Lowest Piccolo Mighty Oaty Bars Banana & Cocoa 18.3 12+ ·         Organic

·         No added sugar

·         No added salt

·         Gluten free

·         Fibre

·         Perfect for lunchboxes

Organic Gluten Free Oat flakes 41.5%, Organic Apple Juice 26%, Organic Inulin (from Agave) 9%, Organic Sunflower Oil High Oleic 8%, Organic Banana Powder 7%, Organic Quinoa Flakes 3%, Organic Rice Crisp 2%, Organic Coconut Milk 2%, Organic Cocoa 1.5%, Organic Antioxidant: Rosemary Extract <1%
Puffed/Aerated texture  
Highest Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers 59 12+ ·         1 of 5 a day

·         Gluten Free

·         No artificial additives

·         Packed with real fruit

Apple juice concentrate 35%, Pear juice concentrate 35%, Banana puree 17%, Puffed rice 8%, Banana flakes 3.5%, Natural flavouring, Gelling agent (pectin), Citrus fibre, Lemon juice concentrate
Lowest Kiddylicious Blueberry Rice Crispy Sticks 3.1 18+ ·         No added salt

·         Gluten and nut free

Rice Crisps (Rice Flour, Rice Wholemeal Flour) (41%), Sunflower Seeds (19%), Inulin (Chicory Fibre), Quinoa Crisps (Quinoa Flour, Rice Flour) (8%), Sunflower Oil, Acacia Fibre, Blueberry (1.6%), Natural Flavouring, Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

*Sweetening ingredients are in bold

What’s more, a quarter of the products (36 out of 73) surveyed claim on-pack that their sweet snacks are suitable for babies under the age of 12 months even though sugar sweetened food and drink should be avoided in this age group.[iv]

Following a public opinion poll by Action on Sugar of 1,000 parents with young children (aged between 1-3 years old) to gain insights on what motivates them when choosing products for their babies:

  • Over 8 out of 10 (84%) said they buy these so called ‘healthy’ baby & toddler sweet snacks for their children.
  • 6 out of 10 (60%) say that a ‘no added sugar’ claim would be the reason for choosing a particular product.[v]
  • 92% said they were more inclined to buy products containing ‘natural sources’ of sugars (e.g. fruit).

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar and Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London says,

“It’s ludicrous that certain food companies are being allowed to promote their high sugar sweet snacks to parents with very young children, despite them being aware that babies and toddlers shouldn’t be having any free sugars.

“Babies can have a preference for sweet foods, due to milk being ever so slightly sweet, but liking sugary foods is something they only learn by eating sugary foods. Some companies choose to encourage this preference further by providing lots of very sweet products from an early age. What we need is companies to make products with minimal amount of sugars, so young children can grow up enjoying less sweet foods.”

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar explains,

“Using healthy-sounding claims on sugary foods is normalising sweet snacks at a young age.  Given just a few baby & toddler sweet snacks would be considered low in sugar, the Government must release their long-awaited commercial baby food and drink guidelines and make them mandatory to hold all companies to the same standard. The Government must also investigate the best way of labelling foods for babies and toddlers to provide better and more honest packaging for parents.”

Dr Linda Greenwall, founder of the Dental Wellness Trust says,

“The latest dental survey from Public Health England 2019 showed that over 23% of children in England have dental decay. This can lead to tooth ache, pain, infection and early tooth loss, which isn’t just detrimental to a child’s dental health but has a knock-on impact to their development, nutrition and growth.  Dental decay is preventable, it’s caused by too much sugar and not enough brushing.  We are very concerned about children’s dental health and the impact of covid. With challenges accessing dental care and increased consumption of sugary snacks, we fear that oral health in this country has declined. 

We want to empower children with the knowledge about the negative impact that sugar has and allow them to make the right choices for their health. Reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and snacks is essential for the fight against dental decay, childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar adds,

“Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis means we’re eating too many calories.  If we don’t use those calories as fuel, our body will store them as fat. This can lead to weight gain, and if this happens to our children, it’s likely they will carry the weight into their adolescent and adult years, potentially leading to overweight or obesity, as well as suffering from agonising tooth decay. It is therefore imperative that food companies act more responsibly and commit to reformulate sugar, salt and calorie reduction instead of foisting unhealthy products with misleading nutrition claims upon well-meaning parents.”

[i] Survey details:

  • Data Collection: 

All major stockists and retailers were visited in person. (Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco, Lidl, Co-op, Boots, Holland & Barret, Waitrose & Partners, Marks & Spencer).  Products were purchased in stores between 9th and 23rd June 2021 and uploaded to the FoodSwitch database to record their nutrition content.

  • Data Analysis:

Inclusion and exclusion criteria were defined as follows:

Included Excluded​
Baby & Toddler Biscuits​
-Teething biscuits​
-Baby rice cakes​
Savoury foods/flavours ​
Initial online search criteria:​
-Children’s biscuits ​
-Children’s snacks  ​
-Baby & Toddler Snacks  ​
Processed fruit snacks /bars, Cakes*, flapjacks*, Breakfast bars*, Baking kits​
Any sweet snack product with age criteria on packaging (0-36 months)​

Cakes, flapjacks etc​

Child friendly/targeted packaging (e.g. Iced Gems, Cadbury Animals)​
Popcorn if age guidance included​
e.g. 12month +​
Sweet and chocolate confectionery  ​

*See inclusion criteria for exceptions

After initial analysis the products were further split into the following sub-categories based on product texture: 

  1. Baked/Soft texture-including flapjacks/soft bakes/oat bars  
  2. Baked/Hard texture-including biscotti/rusks 
  3. Puffed/Aerated texture-including popcorn/rice cakes/wafers  

Data was shared with almost all manufacturers and comments were requested. Following this correspondence we removed two Asda products as they had been delisted. We contacted Kiddylicious to confirm sugar content of their ‘Banana Fruity Puffs’- we received no response and they were removed from the data set.

[ii] SACN (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725530/SACN_report_on_Feeding_in_the_First_Year_of_Life.pdf

[iii] Swan et al, 2018. A definition of free sugars for the UK:


Free sugars include:

  • all added sugar (including honey, syrups and nectars) whether that is added during manufacturing or after
  • lactose and galactose added to food and drinks
  • all sugars in juice (excluding dairy-based drinks)
  • all sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purées, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products.

[iv] There is a need for better understanding of the risks associated with free sugars in foods given to infants in first foods, there are currently no recommended daily maximum guidelines for those under 4 as sugar sweetened food and drink should be avoided in this age group. SACN (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725530/SACN_report_on_Feeding_in_the_First_Year_of_Life.pdf

[v] The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 1000 respondents aged 16+ in the UK between 18/10/2021 – 21/10/2021. The survey was conducted from a nationally representative of UK adults. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

Taking Action on Sugar! (S03 E04)

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar, and Dr Saul Konviser of the Dental Wellness Trust discuss the Government’s open consultation on total restriction of online advertising for HFSS (High in Fat, Sugar and Salt) products, and why it is so important.

The conversation covers the difficulties parents face when feeding their children, branding and packaging, and more. We also question whether responsibility should come down to the government, manufacturers, retailers or consumers.

Drs Hashem and Konviser also talk about the issues arising in patients due to a lack of care during the pandemic.

Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and more:


Dr Kawther Hashem

Dr Kawther Hashem, BSc MSc PhD RNutr (Public Health), is an Registered Nutritionist. She currently holds the position of nutrition researcher at Queen Mary University of London and the Campaign Lead for the Action on Sugar project at Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (CASSH), an active research charity organisation concerned with the effects of salt and sugar on health.

Kawther studied for a BSc in Nutrition at King’s College London. Since graduating, she has worked in various areas including the food industry, non-governmental organisations and more recently in academia. In 2014, Kawther completed a Masters in Food Policy at City University London and in early 2019, she completed her PhD on sugar reduction.

Alongside her current roles Kawther is also visiting lecturer on nutrition and food policy at several UK universities and is regularly invited to comment on nutrition topics in the media.

Twitter: @actiononsugar @kawtherh

Instagram: @actiononsaltandsugar @drkawthernutrition

Website: www.actiononsugar.org

Dr Saul Konviser

Dr Saul Konviser is a general dentist at Montagu Dental practice in Marylebone. He also has an MSc in International Health Policy and utilises this in his role as Trustee of the Dental Wellness Trust charity. He he has been responsible for establishing the DWT’s supervised toothbrushing programmes in schools and nurseries in the UK that now has over 3,500 children taking part everyday. This is in addition to the 15,000 children participating in the DWT’s programmes in South Africa. If you wish to get involved with the DWT, then please get in touch at charity@dentalwellnesstrust.org.

The Probe Dental Podcast is presented by The Dental Awards.

The Dental Awards is the original and most respected awards programme in British dentistry. 2021 marks the 22nd anniversary of the Dental Awards, and over the decades, this prestigious event has recognised the outstanding individuals and teams whose commitment and drive continue to raise standards throughout the profession.

The Dental Awards are sponsored by B.A. International, Colgate, Colosseum Dental, Dental Elite, and Water Pik. The Probe and The British Dental Conference & Dentistry Show are official partners.

For more information, please visit the-probe.co.uk/awards

For more from The Probe, visit the-probe.co.uk. Theme tune courtesy of Bensound.

Action on Sugar and Dental Wellness Trust react to Government’s open consultation on total restriction of online advertising for HFSS products

The government’s Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have started their open consultation on the total restriction of online advertising for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). The consultation seeks views on the proposal for a total online advertising restriction for HFSS products to reduce the amount of HFSS advertising children are exposed to online.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair of Action on Sugar, commented: “We very much welcome this consultation on whether only healthy food and drink should be advertised online as it gives the opportunity for ministers to hear from the many parents who are frustrated with their children being bombarded with advertising for unhealthy foods. 
“As the message from the Government has been to ‘stay home’ for much of the year in the fight against COVID-19, this will have no doubt vastly increased children’s exposure to such irresponsible marketing which casts unhealthy products in the spotlight. 
“It’s therefore vital that a total ban across all online platforms is introduced which would ensure that all loopholes, including paid-for promotions whereby brands are using marketing techniques to push junk food ads, would be firmly closed and help turn the tide on obesity.”
Dr Saul Konviser of the Dental Wellness Trust added: “Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, wellbeing and quality of life and yet unfortunately, tooth decay remains one of the most common non-communicable diseases worldwide. It is therefore imperative that only non-HFSS food and drink products can be marketed and promoted to children across all forms of media – and that must include a total online ban on promotions and advertising.

“As the latest figures by the Local Government Association show, nearly 45,000 hospital operations were performed to remove rotten teeth in 2018/19 which is a stark reminder that too much sugar, especially in children’s diets, can have dire consequences. And what’s most concerning is this is all entirely preventable.”