Report finds Nestlé adds sugars to baby food in low-income countries


Read Time: 4 minutes

Experts say there can be long-term health consequences for babies and infants who consume too much sugar at a young age. 

May 3, 2024,

By Maya Eaglin

In Switzerland, the label of Nestlé’s Cerelac baby cereal says it contains “no added sugar.” But in Senegal and South Africa, the same product has 6 grams of added sugar per serving, according to a recent Public Eye investigation. And in the Philippines, one serving of a version of the Cerelac cereal for babies 1 to 6 months old contains a whopping 7.3 grams of added sugar, the equivalent of almost two teaspoons. 

This “double standard” for how Nestlé creates and markets its popular baby food brands around the world was alleged in a report from Public Eye, an independent nonpartisan Swiss-based investigative organization, and International Baby Food Action Network. 

The groups allege that Nestlé adds sugars and honey to some of its baby cereal and formula in lower-income countries, while products sold in Europe and other countries are advertised with “no added sugars.” The disparities uncovered in the report, which was published in the BMJ in April, has raised alarms among global health experts. 

Nestlé said on its website, “We have reduced the sugar in many of our infant cereals. While there are added sugars in some, we are making progress towards reducing this further, as well as providing more options without added sugar.”

Public Eye sent 115 baby food products under the Cerelac and Nido brands marketed by the food giant in Africa, Asia and Latin America for lab testing. The investigation found that 94% of them had added sugar

“For 67 of these products, we were able to determine the amount of added sugar. On average, there are almost 4 grams per serving, or about a [cube] of sugar,” according to the report. 

Finding a laboratory to test the global food samples was difficult, said Public Eye researcher Laurent Gaberell.

“All the labs that we approached in Switzerland refused to work with us on the project because they feared that this project could have a negative impact on their customers,” Gaberell said. “So we had to do the work with a lab that is based in Belgium.” 

Nestlé is the parent company for popular baby food brands like Cerelac and Nido. The company reports its infant nutrition products were the “largest growth contributor” out of any other category in 2023, contributing to its $11.2 billion net profit.  

Gaberell said the levels of added sugar ignore international guidance on nutrition for children and infants. 

“There’s really consensus that there’s no place at all for sugar in baby food,” he said. 

In the European Region, the World Health Organization guidelines state that no added sugar should be used in foods for infants under the age of 3. 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has launched an independent investigation into Nestlé after the report was published according to Reuters. 

According to FSSAI’s website, “Sucrose and/or fructose shall not be added, unless needed as a carbohydrate source, and provided the sum of these does not exceed 20 per cent of total carbohydrate.”

And the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control in Nigeria released a statement in response to the report that said the Nestlé products in the country do adhere to their standards.

“All our infant formula products for babies under 12 months of age do not contain added sugars,” Nestlé said on its website, “For the so-called growing up milks (GUMs), for children aged between 1 and 3 years, we started to phase out added sugars some time ago and the vast majority of these products do not contain refined sugar. We aim to reach 100% by the end of 2024.”

WHO scientist Nigel Rollins told the Public Eye researchers, “Such a double standard is unjustifiable.” 

A spokesperson for Nestlé told NBC News that the company is working on reducing added sugars worldwide and offers sugar-free products in several countries. 

On its website Nestlé says, “Our products comply with all applicable local and/or international regulations.”

They also responded with a statement saying: “Supporting the right nutritional start to life is fundamental to who we are and how we operate. All our early life foods and milks are nutritionally balanced as defined in the commonly accepted scientific guidelines and dietary recommendations, including CODEX.” 

Codex Alimentarius is a collection of international food standards and guidance developed in partnership with the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

Experts say there can be long-term health consequences for babies and infants who consume too much sugar at a young age. 

“We have decreased the amount of sugar recommendations in especially young toddlers and children, because we know that we’re in a crisis of obesity, not only in this country but around the world. And we find that increasing sugar in our liquid products is really helping to increase the issues with the obesity crisis,” pediatrician Dr. Sara Siddiqui from NYU Langone Health said. 

Creating healthy eating habits from a young age is essential, she said.

“It is really important to start off young and try to decrease our relationship with sugar because it does have some addictive qualities to it, and it can change your brain,” Siddiqui said.  

Siddiqui said that monetary stressors might also be influencing parents to continue buying  added sugar formulas and baby cereals that their children appear to like. 

“In some developing countries and even here in the US where you have people that may be not doing well financially, they don’t want to waste the product once they buy it,” Siddiqui said. “So if your child is going to drink the drink that’s, you know, sweeter to them, they’ll finish that product and then you won’t feel like you’re wasting your funds or your resources.” 

Siddiqui encouraged parents to be kind to themselves. 

“My advice is always, you know, give yourself some grace. You’re a parent and it’s hard,” Siddiqui said. “It’s always best to read the ingredients, do the best that you can, and make sure that you’re also trying to model the behavior that you would like to see in your children.”

Gaberell’s solutions include educating local communities about their traditional methods of infant nutrition and demanding that Nestlé stop producing all infant products with added sugar. 

“You did it in Switzerland, you can do it worldwide,” Gaberell said.  

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/report-finds-nestle-adds-sugars-baby-food-low-income-countries-rcna150562


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