KIDS
September 16, 2013

Marketing to New Parents' Fears

When baby foods are promoted to parents of infants, breastfeeding — and nutrition — can suffer.

Marketers love new parents. They need to purchase many items they never even knew they needed before — car seats and bibs, diapers and bumpers. So parents are bombarded with marketing for products they may not use for months or years to come.

Commercial baby food is one example. There is good evidence that breast milk is the best nutrition for babies before the age of six months, but baby food is often promoted to parents of babies who are far younger. A new study found there’s no added benefit in giving younger babies these foods, and in fact they often provide inferior nutrition.

There are some compelling reasons to introduce certain foods early on, but not at the expense of offering sufficient breast milk. In fact, you might actually be shortchanging your little one nutritionally, since there are risks associated with introducing solids too soon.

When the researchers compared the store-bought, spoonable foods to typical homemade baby foods, they found that the nutritional density was much lower in the store-bought versions.

The British study looked at the nutritional content of 462 baby foods and marketed to parents to wean babies. Foods were of several varieties: soft and pureed, powered and to be reconstituted with milk or water, finger foods, and cereals. Nutritional measures like iron content, calories, fat, salt, sugar, and protein were measured in each food.

More than 400 of these foods – almost 80% – were ready-to-eat, spoonable foods, and 44% of these were marketed for babies just four months old. Their energy content was comparable to breast milk, and many of the foods (65%) were sweet, which the authors say takes advantage of baby’s natural preferences.

“The majority of products,” they write, “had energy content similar to breast milk and would not serve the intended purpose of enhancing the nutrient density and diversity of taste and texture in infants’ diets.”

The most notable finding was that the foods are regularly marketed for babies as young as four months, who don’t need anything nutritionally beyond breast milk. So replacing breast milk with these foods early in life just doesn’t make much sense. The one exception was iron, which was higher in store-bought foods and is the one nutrient that’s lacking in breast milk. But it is easily supplemented without consuming other foods.

When the researchers compared the store-bought, spoon-able foods to typical homemade baby foods, they found that the nutritional density was much lower in the store-bought versions. In fact, they say it would require 100 grams of a store bought food to provide the same nutritional content as 50 grams of the corresponding homemade food.

The authors urge doctors to talk with families about the fact that breast milk is sufficient until six months, and that even after they might do well to minimize store-bought foods.

“While it is understandable that parents may choose to use commercial foods early in the weaning process, health professionals should be aware that such food will not add to the nutrient density of a milk diet. They should encourage them to progress to suitable family foods, particularly later in the first year of life.”

If you have questions about your baby’s nutrition, or how to integrate solids into his or her diet, it’s best to talk to your pediatrician, who can help guide you on the process.

The research was carried out at the University of Glasgow and published in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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