Nestl baby food loaded with unhealthy sugars, but only in the poorest countries

Zoom in / Night view of company logos at the Nestl Avanca dairy plant on January 21, 2019 in Avanca, Portugal. This plant produces Cerelac, Nestum, Mokambo, Pensal, Chocapic and Estrelitas, among others.

In high-income countries, Nestl brand baby food has no added sugars, in line with recommendations from leading health organizations around the world and consumer pressure. But in low- and middle-income countries, Nestlé adds sugar to the baby products themselves, sometimes at high levels, which could lead children to prefer sugary diets and unhealthy eating habits, according to research recently published by groups without profit.

The research, carried out by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), says that adding added sugars to baby food in poorer countries, against expert recommendations, creates an “unjustifiable double standard “. The groups cite Rodrigo Vianna, an epidemiologist and professor at the Department of Nutrition at the Federal University of Paraba in Brazil, who calls added sugars in baby food “unnecessary and highly addictive.”

“Children become accustomed to the sweet taste and begin to seek out more sugary foods, starting a negative cycle that increases the risk of nutrition-based disorders in adulthood,” Vianna told the organizations for her research. “These include obesity and other chronic non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”

The two groups compared the nutritional content of Nestl’s Cerelac and Nido products, the company’s best-selling baby food brands in low- and middle-income countries that generate sales of more than $2.5 billion. In one Cerelac wheat cereal product, for example, the product contained up to 6 grams of added sugar in countries including Thailand, Ethiopia, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In the UK and Germany, the same product contained zero added sugars.

The product with the highest sugar content was a Cerelac baby cereal product sold in the Philippines with 7.3 grams of sugar. While children under the age of 2 are recommended to have zero grams of added sugars in their diet, as a benchmark, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 2 to 18 have less than 25 grams (about six teaspoons ) per day.

In the Philippines, where the sugar content was the highest, and in other countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Vietnam and Pakistan, the added sugar content was not listed on Nestl’s labelling, according to the investigation.

double standards

“There is a double standard here that cannot be justified,” Nigel Rollins, a WHO scientist, told the non-profit groups. Rollins noted that the company does not add sugars to its baby products in Switzerland, where it is headquartered. adding it in low-resource settings is “problematic from both a public health and ethical perspective,” he said.

In a report last month, the WHO found that by 2022, 37 million children under 5 worldwide would be overweight. In addition, more than 390 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 were overweight and 160 million were obese. The prevalence of overweight in children aged 5 to 19 increased from 8% in 1990 to 20% in 2022, the United Nations agency noted. Meanwhile, obesity rates in this age group rose from 2% to 8% in the same time period.

Nestl responded to the investigation with a statement suggesting that differences in sugar content “depend on a number of factors, including regulations and the availability of local ingredients, which may result in offers with lower or no added sugars.” . But it argued that these differences did not “compromise the nutritional value of our products for babies and toddlers”.

Nestl is a multinational food and beverage company with a controversial history of selling baby products in poorer countries. In the 1970s and ’80s, the company came under heavy international fire for aggressively marketing its infant formula to impoverished mothers. Health advocates accused Nestl of misleading mothers into thinking formula is better than breast milk for their babies, even though leading health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life when be possible

Critics accused Nestl of providing free formula to hospital maternity wards, prompting low-income new mothers to turn to them soon after birth in the critical window when breast milk production would increase in response to the nursing a newborn. Without nursing during this time, mothers may struggle to breastfeed and become dependent on formula. Outside the hospital, powdered formula is no longer free and must be mixed in appropriate quantities and under sanitary conditions to ensure it is safe and meets the baby’s nutritional needs, which can be a struggle for poor families

Nestl now claims it follows international standards for the marketing of breast milk substitutes, despite ongoing boycotts in some countries.

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