Aussie children are getting a better start than their UK cousins, with research in Australia finding that the majority of baby and toddler foods sold in supermarkets is of a high nutritional quality.
Senior author Professor Victoria Flood from the University of Sydney said the study, which examined 309 products from 17 manufacturers, showed results that appeared better than some other countries.
"The nutritional quality of baby and toddler foods has been largely overlooked in health research, but it is an increasingly important market to consider," Professor Flood said.
"Our youngest children need the best possible start when they are naturally moved onto solid foods and begin to develop their habits and tastes.
"Only two other regions, the United Kingdom and Canada, have published research on the healthiness of their baby and toddler foods, with both countries showing higher levels of sodium and sugar overall than we have in similar products in Australia, so we are doing well."
Director of the Food Policy division at the George Institute for Global Health, Professor Bruce Neal, said the toddler and baby food market was growing rapidly and this study provided an important benchmark to monitor changes in the sector.
"The market has grown at 4.8 percent a year for the past five years and is worth more than $300 million a year in Australia," Professor Neal said.
"Part of the increase in this market can be attributed to time-poor parents needing to make quick food decisions and that isn't likely to change any time soon, so we need to get it right."
The findings, which have been published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal show:
Professor Flood said the taste preferences of infants meant their eating habits should be carefully monitored in their early years.
"Young children naturally prefer sweet and salty foods over those with less sweet tastes such as vegetables," she said.
"In Australia, the majority of infants are introduced to non-milk foods by the age of six months.
"Commercial baby foods are consumed by as many as 90 percent of children at nine months old and 50 percent of 18 month olds.
"So, the impact of these foods on children cannot be overestimated and we encourage all parents to pay close attention to what they are putting in their supermarket trolleys."
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