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Nestle adding sugar to poorer nations' baby foods, group claims

An advocacy group alleges that Nestle is contributing to a growing number of children with obesity by adding sugar to products in poorer nations.
Nestle adding sugar to poorer nations' baby foods, group claims
Posted at 11:07 AM, Apr 19, 2024

Nestle adds sugar to baby formulas and other foods for young children while keeping sugar content lower for the same products in wealthier nations, a new report from the Swiss-based advocacy group Public Eye claims.

In its report titled "How Nestle gets children hooked on sugar in lower-income countries," Public Eye tested several different products for their added sugar content. Public Eye expressed concerns that added sugar in these products was contributing to an increase in childhood obesity in these developing nations. 

In one example cited, Public Eye compared the added sugar content in Cerelac, a cookie-flavored cereal intended for babies 6 months and older. While Cerelac had no added sugar in products marketed in the U.K. and Germany, Public Eye said products in Thailand had 6 grams of sugar per serving. Cerelac also had 5.2 grams per sugar per serving in Ethiopia, and 4 grams of sugar per serving in South Africa. 

Similarly, the report noted that added sugar was significantly higher in Nido powdered milk sold in Panama and Nicaragua. 

A Nestle spokesperson responded to Public Eye's claims. 

"We apply the same nutrition, health and wellness principles everywhere which are aligned with international guidelines and regulations," a Nestle spokesperson said. "This includes compliance with labeling requirements and thresholds on carbohydrate content, which encompasses sugars. We communicate transparently about our products to consumers and always declare the total sugar content of the product

"Slight variations in recipes across countries depend on several factors, including regulations, consumer trends, and availability of local ingredients, which can result in offerings with lower or no added sugars. This does not compromise the nutritional value of our products adapted to infants and young children. For example, our range of cereals in Europe comes with and without added sugars. The same applies to several markets across Asia, Latin America and North America, where no-added sugar options are also available to consumers."

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It should be noted that the products that don't have added sugar may still contain natural sugars, like ones found in milk and fruit. According to the University of California San Diego's School of Medicine, natural sugars are digested more slowly and help keep the metabolism stable. Natural sugars also tend to carry more nutrients like potassium and vitamin C.

The World Health Organization has noted a rise in the number of children who are overweight and obese. The WHO said 37 million children worldwide under the age of 5 were overweight in 2022, and over 390 million children and adolescents ages 5–19 were overweight in 2022. 

The WHO said that while just 2% of children in 1990 were considered obese, that number grew to 8% worldwide in 2022. 

The number of children under age 5 who are overweight in Africa has increased by nearly 23% between 2000 and 2022, the WHO said. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children over age 2 should be limited to 25 grams of sugar per day. The organization says, "Avoid serving food and drinks with added sugar to children under 2 years of age."

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