CDC: Many Packaged Toddler Foods Contain Too Much Salt, Sugar

While the ease of pre-packaged meals for the wee set is surely tempting, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says parents should be aware that many contain worrisome amounts of salt and sugar.

Eating too much of these kinds of foods could start a chain reaction that could contribute to other health risks, the government says in the study published today in the journal Pediatrics, via the Associated Press. The study points out that almost one in four U.S. children between ages 2 and 5 are overweight or obese, with about 80% of 1- to 3-year-olds eating more than the recommended maximum level of daily salt.

“We also know that about one in nine children have blood pressure above the normal range for their age, and that sodium, excess sodium, is related to increased blood pressure,” said the CDC’s Mary Cogswell, the study’s lead author. “Blood pressure tracks from when children are young up through adolescence into when they’re adults. Eating foods which are high in sodium can set a child up for high blood pressure and later on for cardiovascular disease.”

Looking at more than 1,000 foods marketed for infants and toddlers, researchers found that about seven in 10 toddler dinners had too much salt and most breakfast items and snacks for infants and toddlers contained extra sugars.

As such, the study advises parents to make sure they’re reading food labels and trying to make healthy choices,

No brand names were listed in the results, but researchers included popular brands of baby food, toddler dinners including packaged macaroni and cheese, mini hot dogs, rice cakes, crackers, dried fruit snacks and yogurt treats in the study.

The critics have already chimed in, with the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group whose members include makers of foods for infants and toddlers, issuing a statement that the study “does not accurately reflect the wide range of healthy choices available in today’s marketplace … because it is based on 2012 data that does not reflect new products with reduced sodium levels.”

As such, the study “could needlessly alarm and confuse busy parents as they strive to develop suitable meal options that their children will enjoy.”

Researchers say this is the most recent, comprehensive data on commercial foods for young kids, while noting that there have been some healthy inroads made recently.

“The good news is that the majority of infant foods were low in sodium,” Cogswell said, but that it was suprising that “seven out of 10 toddler foods were high in the amount of sodium per serving and that a substantial proportion of toddler meals and the majority of other toddler foods and infant’s and toddler’s snacks contained an added sugar.”

So what should toddlers be eating? Foods shouldn’t have more than 210 milligrams of salt or sodium per serving, according to the Institute of Medicine recommendations, but the average for toddler meals in the study was 361 milligrams.

Too much sugar is defined as more than 35% of calories per portion coming from the sweet stuff, based on the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines for school food. Many foods in the study were over that, with sugar providing an average of 47% of calories for infant mixed grains and fruit; 66 percent of calories in dried fruit snacks, and more than 35 percent of calories in dairy-based desserts.

“It’s just additional calories that aren’t needed,” Cogswell said.

Toddler food often has too much salt, sugar, CDC study [Associated Press]