A comprehensive national audit of toddler foods and drinks has found the majority were “ultra-processed” and sweetened despite being marketed as healthy.
PhD student Jennifer McCann from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition found about 80 per cent of packaged foods were sweetened snack foods and 85 per cent were ultra-processed.
The study looked at 154 toddler specific foods and 32 toddler milk products available in Australian supermarkets and chemists.
Ms McCann said it was concerning because many parents believe the snacks are suitable to eat regularly.
“This research tells us that packaged toddler foods should only be eaten occasionally, if at all,” Ms McCann said.
Most of the foods were highly processed sweetened fruit and cereal bars and ready-made frozen meals, many with added sugars.
“Only 10 per cent of the snack foods aligned with the Australian Dietary Guidelines,” Ms McCann said.
“Just over half included one of the five food groups from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating but nearly half of these were also ultra-processed.
“The remaining snack foods were discretionary or occasional foods.
“Most of the milk products were highly sweetened and some had nearly twice the sugar content per 100ml of soft drink.
“There is recent evidence linking high intakes of ultra-processed foods in young children to cardiometabolic risks, asthma, overweight and obesity as well as lower overall diet quality.”
She said the products labelled with messages and claims that these foods are healthy and sometimes even necessary, which was of great concern.
“This is very concerning as the packaging is designed to give consumers a false sense of the healthiness of these foods.
“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.
“They should be eating family meals and fresh, unprocessed or minimally processed foods to achieve their nutrient and food based needs.
“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.”