A cross-country exploratory study to investigate the labelling, energy, carbohydrate and sugar content of formula milk products marketed for infants


Aims The first aim was to describe the energy, carbohydrate and sugar contents of formula milk products in eleven countries. The second was to assess the labelling methods used. Based on the findings, approaches to facilitate the selection of infant-appropriate formula milk products were proposed.

Background Consumption of excess sugar during infancy can increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including obesity, diabetes and dental caries. Reduction of sugar consumption has been high on the global public health agenda. Although most infants are fed formula milk products in addition to, or instead of, breastmilk (with only 38% exclusively breastfed), the sugar content of these products is often not included in sugar reduction strategies.

Methods An exploratory study was conducted to describe the labelling and nutritional composition of a sample of infant formula products available in 11 countries. The sample, which was collected between May and August 2019, included commercially available formula products (n = 257) targeted at infants aged <3 years of age. The products were sold in supermarkets and by other major retailers across the sample countries. Primary data were obtained from labels on the packaging of the formula products.

Results Findings suggest that the majority of products sampled were higher in total carbohydrate and carbohydrates of which sugar and lactose, than breastmilk, supporting previous research. The nutrition information presented on the products was often unclear and was inconsistent across the 11 counties sampled. None of the products had front-of-pack (FOP) nutritional information.

Conclusion Findings suggest that globally, infant formula products are higher in carbohydrates, sugar and lactose than breastmilk. Labelling is unclear and inconsistent across brands and between countries. Based on the findings of this study, mandatory regulation of sugar content in formula products is needed with clear FOP nutrition information to help consumers choose the healthy option for their infants.

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The authors would like to thank the members of the WFPHA who took the photos of the infant formula milk products in their respective countries.

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Correspondence to Gemma Bridge.

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Bridge, G., Lomazzi, M. & Bedi, R. A cross-country exploratory study to investigate the labelling, energy, carbohydrate and sugar content of formula milk products marketed for infants. Br Dent J 228, 198–212 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-020-1252-0

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