Three quarters of toddlers are eating too much – because parents are feeding them supposedly “healthy” snacks which are actually no better than sweets.
A Public Health England investigation of more than 1,100 foods aimed at babies and infants warns that some fruit-based products are three-quarters sugar.
Health officials today called for a Government crackdown, warning that parents were being fooled into thinking they were making the right choices for their children, as a result of misleading claims.
Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, urged parents to limit snacks – and said she “strongly advised” parents to entirely cut out those which are high in sugar.
Its evidence review of foods and drinks available to the under-threes found some foods marketed as healthy snacks are among those with the highest sugar content.
The study found that the market for baby “finger food” – such as dried fruit and oat bars – is rapidly expanding.
Last year more than £100m was spent on such products in the UK – a 66 per cent rise since 2014.
Processed dried fruit products were found to be the highest in sugar, prompting PHE to issue a stark warning that “these should not be marketed as suitable for children to eat between meals.”
Officials said parents are often misled into thinking such foods, along with fruit pouches and purees, are healthy because they boast they are “packed with real fruit” or “one of five a day”.
Such messages act as a “health halo,” the report warns, distracting parents from the high sugar content.
Officials today urged ministers to clamp down on confusing labelling, as they urged parents instead to opt for whole fruit and vegetables.
They warned that 75 per cent of children aged between four and 18 months are eating more calories than they need, fuelling Britain’s obesity crisis.
One in five children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school – and one in three reaches this stage by the time they leave.
The report warns that manufacturers are attempting to imply that products are an easy way to get children to eat their greens – when products were predominantly made of fruit, which is much more sugary.
It cites the example of a broccoli, pear and peas pouch which contained seven per cent broccoli, and 14 per cent peas and 79 per cent pear.