BSNA calls for evidence based child oral health debate

In response to The Lancet Series on Oral Health, published today in The Lancet, Declan O’Brien – Director General of the BSNA representing baby food companies, stated: 

“BSNA members support measures to improve the dental health of infants and children. The foods they produce are already tightly regulated and are tailored to meet the specific needs of young children.

“BSNA members are continually looking to improve their range of products and have been working with Public Health England on reformulation. In tackling poor dental health in children, it is important to recognise that commercial baby foods make up only 14% of total sugar intake for infants between 4-9 months old, falling to 9% for toddlers aged 10-18 months. 

“The World Health Organisation found no direct evidence linking intake of commercial baby foods to tooth decay.” 

Notes to Editors

The British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA) represents the following companies: Danone Nutricia, Ella’s Kitchen, HiPP Organic, Kiddylicious, Nestle Nutrition, and Organix.

The majority of commercially available infant food products contain no added sugar or salt, and the category has already undertaken extensive reformulation to reduce the total sugar content of products. These products can encourage healthy eating habits in young children, including supporting incremental dietary, flavour and texture diversification.      

The most recent available data (The Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children, 2011 - DHSC and FSA) shows that:

  • between 4-9 months commercial infant foods make-up 14% of total sugar intake, declining to 9% for toddlers aged 10-18 months. Comparably, for the same ages, total sugars from non-infant specific foods are 20% and 58% respectively. 
  • Total sugar from fruit based commercial infant foods is 4.5% for those aged 4-9 months and 3% for those aged 10-18 months.
  • Amongst the five socio-economic status (SES) groups, a higher percentage of commercial baby foods is purchased by the higher SES groups. Between the highest and lowest grade this equates to more than 3.5 times more commercial infant foods being purchased.
  • Evidence suggests that prevalence of childhood obesity is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status and is highest among children living in the most deprived areas. A child living in the most deprived 10% of areas in England today is more than twice as likely to be obese than a child living in the least deprived 10% of areas in England. [The Lancet, 2018]

The World Health Organisation (Europe) “Ending inappropriate promotion of commercially available complementary foods for infants and young children between 6 and 36 months in Europe” (2019) report, page 53 states:

“Although there is no direct evidence linking intake of CACFs (commercially available complementary foods) to tooth decay, frequent intake of foods with high sugar contents will negatively affect oral health.”

Baby specific foods are already highly regulated as a separate category of foods, with numerous provisions that recognise the specific needs of infants from first weaning to 3 years of age, including their particular dietary requirements and the higher food safety standards necessary for this young age group.  Sweeteners and artificial colours are not allowed in baby food. This means that baby foods are a more suitable choice for this age group.

Commercial baby foods are governed through EU regulations in particular Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council on food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes, and total diet replacement for weight control and Commission Directive 2006/125/EC on processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children. 

Parents should be supported to provide a balanced diet whatever form of food they give their children.