Early years food remains a ‘policy black hole’ in government food strategy

10 July 2022
2 min read

Action on Sugar responds to the recent changes in the UK health system.

In a recent news article Action on Sugar said, “The National Food Strategy (NFS) team proposed bold, evidence-based recommendations that would have an enormous impact on improving our food system, making healthier food more available and accessible to all. The Government’s response to the NFS, which has been eagerly anticipated since January 2022, was published June 13, 2022.

“Unfortunately, there remains no clear guidance from government around food for infants and young children (the ‘early years’). The government has been expected to publish long-awaited guidelines for early years products, but it has still not materialised.

“Dietary habits in children's early years influence eating patterns in later life. Liking salty and sugary foods is a learned taste preference and the recommendation that the adult population reduce their salt and sugar intake will be more successful if children do not develop a preference for salt and sugar in the first place. This can only be achieved if children are given a diet which is low in salt and sugar. Currently, children consume excess amounts of calories, fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar and do not eat enough fibre, fruit and vegetables*.

“Children as young as 1.5-3 years eat:

  • 27.9g/day free sugars compared to recommended 0g
  • 17.5g/day saturated fat”

In 2021 Action on Sugar released a survey showing alarming amounts of sugar in foods for children. They utilised the traffic light label system as the criteria for their analysis.

The survey discovered several worrying statistics:

  • All products surveyed feature healthy-sounding claims on pack, of which over a third (37 per cent) would receive a red (high) label for sugars
  • A third (36 per cent) of early years biscuits would have to display a red label for sugar.
  • However, the majority (88 per cent) do not list ‘sugar’ in the ingredients, choosing instead to list other sweetening ingredients such as fruit concentrates.
  • More than half of the biscuits would also be defined as less healthy by the Nutrient Profiling Model.
  • A quarter of the products 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

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, and chairman of Action on Salt and Action on Sugar, said Early years health is too important to allow unhealthy products to be sold and marketed to infants and young children, and companies that do so are immoral. However, the Government’s Food Strategy fails to include any measures for improving the nutritional quality of early years food, which continues to be a policy black hole. Strict, mandatory guidelines – based on WHO Europe’s guidelines – for all products intended for early years are urgently needed.”