New research finds parents are being misled by toddler foods marketed as healthy.
New research finds parents are being misled by toddler foods marketed as healthy.

Unhealthy truth about toddler snacks, milks

Popular toddler snacks and milks are no better than junk food, a new study has found.

Parents are being misled by foods marketed as healthy for toddlers when only one in 10 meets dietary guidelines, according to Deakin University researchers.

This includes some toddler milks that have nearly twice the sugar of cows' milk and nearly as much sugar as a can of Fanta.

Jennifer McCann of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition analysed 32 toddler milks and 154 foods designed to be eaten by toddlers, including fruit and cereal bars, salty snacks and ready-made frozen meals.

She found eight out of 10 toddler products were sweetened and 85 per cent were ultra-processed.

Two-thirds of the products had added sugar in the form of fruit purees or concentrates.

Most had more fat, sugar carbohydrates and protein than normal foods.

Even some raw food with minimal processing had more fat and sugar.

"Toddlers need a variety of foods to supply essential nutrients and they also need different tastes and textures to prepare them for a varied diet as they grow," Ms McCann said.

"They should be eating family meals and fresh, unprocessed or minimally processed foods to achieve their nutrient and food-based needs."

The foods were found in supermarkets and pharmacies and many had unsubstantiated health claims such as "no artificial colours or flavours" and "added probiotics".

"This is very concerning as the packaging is designed to give consumers a false sense of the healthiness of these foods," Ms McCann said.

"Hopefully, this new understanding and awareness will help deliver a positive and healthy change within this retail market.

"There is recent evidence linking high intakes of ultra-processed foods in young children to cardiometabolic risks, asthma, being ­overweight and obesity as well as lower overall diet quality.

"We encourage consumers to carefully read product labels and ingredient lists when buying food for their children and question the on-pack claims and marketing of these products."

The findings were published in the journal of Public Health and Nutrition.

Originally published as Unhealthy truth about toddler snacks, milks