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Nestle Adds Sugar to Baby Foods Sold in Poorer Nations: Why The Findings Matter

'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

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Cerelac and Nido, two of Nestle’s best-selling baby-food brands in low-income and middle-income countries, have high levels of added sugar – in the form of sucrose and honey.

In contrast, these products are sugar free in Switzerland, the brand’s home country, and in other European nations.

This is what a Swiss organisation – Public Eye – found when it investigated the brand along with International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).

Out of 115 Nestle products that were investigated, 108 had added sugars in Asian, African, and Latin American markets.

What does this mean? Why does this matter? FIT breaks it down for you.

Nestle Adds Sugar to Baby Foods Sold in Poorer Nations: Why The Findings Matter

  1. 1. Key Findings of the Investigation

    According to Public Eye and IBFAN, in low-income and middle-income countries:

    • Cerelac infant cereals – for infants who are six months and older – contain added sugar which is “nearly four grams per serving on average” or “equal to roughly a sugar cube.” In the Philippines, a product had 7.3 grams per serving of added sugar – the highest anywhere.

    • Nido powdered-milk products – for children between the ages of 1-3 years – contain added sugar which is “almost two grams per serving on average.” In Panama, a product had 5.3 grams per serving of added sugar – the highest anywhere.

    'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

    Key findings of the study.

    (Photo: FIT)

    Meanwhile, in all these products sold in Switzerland and in other European countries, there was no added sugar at all.
    'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

    Key findings of the study.

    (Photo: Public Eye and IBFAN)

    Expand
  2. 2. The Many Health Risks: Why These Revelations Matter

    Nestle is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, controlling over 20 percent of the baby-food market.

    It’s valued at around USD 70 billion and earned over USD 2.5 billion in 2022 from Cerelac and Nido alone. 

    Brazil and India reportedly account for 40 percent of Nestle’s baby-products sales among low-income and middle-income countries. In India, Cerelac received sales over USD 250 million in 2022.

    The money aside, this also matters because early exposure to sugar can “create a life-long preference for sugary products that increases the risk of developing obesity and other chronic illnesses,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

    The WHO had stated that in 2022, one in eight people in the world were clinically obese. Over a billion people are obese, globally.

    According to a landmark Lancet study published earlier this year, 70 million adults live with obesity in India – 44 million women and 26 million men. 

    Dr Arun Gupta, a paediatrician and a former member of the Prime Minister’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, tells FIT,

    “The very first concern is that it increases the risk of obesity. Obesity acts as a precursor to all diseases – diabetes, heart issues, hypertension, etc. A recent study found that over 50 percent children in India showed metabolic markers of obesity. Last year, an ICMR study had suggested that one in four adults live with diabetes and obesity in India, while one in three suffer from hypertension.”

    Dr Gupta adds, “These ultra-processed foods are inherently unhealthy because they contain industrial chemicals and saturated fats. Also, sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them.”

    Expand
  3. 3. Nestle’s ‘Double Standards’

    If added sugars are so harmful to health, why do brands even use them in products in the first place? Well, for starters, sugar is relatively cheaper and helps bulk the product.

    “Adding sugar would also make a child happily consume it, which in turn makes parents also happy. So, they tend to give them more of that product. The underlying strategy at play here, that I understand, is to increase sales and make profits. Speculatively, it could also be a marketing ploy to seem healthy – adding sugars, then claiming to reduce the levels,” Dr Gupta tells FIT.

    However, most western nations have limitations for added sugars and sweetening agents for children below a certain age. For instance,

    • WHO in Europe doesn’t allow added sugars in products for children under the age of three years.

    • The UK doesn’t allow food with added sugars for children under four years of age.

    • The US advises against children under two years of age consuming added sugars.

    If there are international regulations, why do brands like Nestle not consider them while manufacturing products for all their markets?

    Dr Gupta says, 

    “We don’t ask questions of these brands in developing countries. We don’t test these products. Nestle’s own website advises against added sugar and yet it’s in products sold in low-income countries. Governments in poorer countries have weak laws, or do not implement the laws properly.”

    But, wait a minute, what do India’s laws on infant food products say?

    According to The Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992, no person is allowed to advertise, promote, and give “an impression that feeding of infant milk substitutes and infant foods are equivalent to, or better than, mother’s milk.”

    'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

    The Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992.

    However, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO have both recommended on multiple occasions that children under the age of two years not be given any foods that have added sugar.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that this is not the first time that Nestle has been pulled up for such violations.

    • In 2018, the Changing Markets Foundation had stated in a report that Nestle’s infant milk formulas, sold in South Africa, had sucrose in them, while the product sold in other countries didn’t.

    • Similarly, Nestle’s baby milk powder sold in Hong Kong was free of vanilla flavourings, but contained the element in products sold in other places.

    Dr Gupta adds, “Last year, an internal report of Nestle got leaked which clearly stated that over 60 percent of its food products were unhealthy and did not meet the health standards.”

    Expand
  4. 4. What Next?

    Responding to the allegations, a Nestle spokesperson told The Guardian, “We believe in the nutritional quality of our products for early childhood and prioritise using high-quality ingredients adapted to the growth and development of children.” 

    Nestle India, in a statement released on 18 April, said, "Compliance is an essential characteristic of Nestlé India and we will never compromise on that. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards (a commission established by WHO and FAO) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements all nutrients including added sugars. Reduction of added sugars is a priority for Nestlé India."

    It added that the brand has “reduced added sugars by up to 30 percent” in the past five years in the country. 

    On a global level, in the past 10 years, Nestle claims to have reduced added sugars by 11 percent.

    The investigating agencies, however, alleged that Nestle had “aggressively advertised these products as essential to children’s healthy development” and misled consumers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    “Whereas Nestle recommends publicly to avoid baby foods that contain added sugar, it takes advantage of the weakness of existing regulations to continue selling such products in lower-income countries.”
    Public Eye

    Public Eye, in a press release, said, “A petition demands that Nestle put an end to this unjustifiable and harmful double standard, which contributes to the explosive rise of obesity and leads children to develop a life-long preference for sugary products.”

    Dr Gupta agrees. He tells FIT, “As of now, the law is not implemented seriously and effectively in developing countries. What we need is an annual report of these brands and banning all products that do not meet the standards for healthy food for infants.”

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Key Findings of the Investigation

According to Public Eye and IBFAN, in low-income and middle-income countries:

  • Cerelac infant cereals – for infants who are six months and older – contain added sugar which is “nearly four grams per serving on average” or “equal to roughly a sugar cube.” In the Philippines, a product had 7.3 grams per serving of added sugar – the highest anywhere.

  • Nido powdered-milk products – for children between the ages of 1-3 years – contain added sugar which is “almost two grams per serving on average.” In Panama, a product had 5.3 grams per serving of added sugar – the highest anywhere.

'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

Key findings of the study.

(Photo: FIT)

Meanwhile, in all these products sold in Switzerland and in other European countries, there was no added sugar at all.
'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

Key findings of the study.

(Photo: Public Eye and IBFAN)

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Many Health Risks: Why These Revelations Matter

Nestle is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, controlling over 20 percent of the baby-food market.

It’s valued at around USD 70 billion and earned over USD 2.5 billion in 2022 from Cerelac and Nido alone. 

Brazil and India reportedly account for 40 percent of Nestle’s baby-products sales among low-income and middle-income countries. In India, Cerelac received sales over USD 250 million in 2022.

The money aside, this also matters because early exposure to sugar can “create a life-long preference for sugary products that increases the risk of developing obesity and other chronic illnesses,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO had stated that in 2022, one in eight people in the world were clinically obese. Over a billion people are obese, globally.

According to a landmark Lancet study published earlier this year, 70 million adults live with obesity in India – 44 million women and 26 million men. 

Dr Arun Gupta, a paediatrician and a former member of the Prime Minister’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, tells FIT,

“The very first concern is that it increases the risk of obesity. Obesity acts as a precursor to all diseases – diabetes, heart issues, hypertension, etc. A recent study found that over 50 percent children in India showed metabolic markers of obesity. Last year, an ICMR study had suggested that one in four adults live with diabetes and obesity in India, while one in three suffer from hypertension.”

Dr Gupta adds, “These ultra-processed foods are inherently unhealthy because they contain industrial chemicals and saturated fats. Also, sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them.”

0

Nestle’s ‘Double Standards’

If added sugars are so harmful to health, why do brands even use them in products in the first place? Well, for starters, sugar is relatively cheaper and helps bulk the product.

“Adding sugar would also make a child happily consume it, which in turn makes parents also happy. So, they tend to give them more of that product. The underlying strategy at play here, that I understand, is to increase sales and make profits. Speculatively, it could also be a marketing ploy to seem healthy – adding sugars, then claiming to reduce the levels,” Dr Gupta tells FIT.

However, most western nations have limitations for added sugars and sweetening agents for children below a certain age. For instance,

  • WHO in Europe doesn’t allow added sugars in products for children under the age of three years.

  • The UK doesn’t allow food with added sugars for children under four years of age.

  • The US advises against children under two years of age consuming added sugars.

If there are international regulations, why do brands like Nestle not consider them while manufacturing products for all their markets?

Dr Gupta says, 

“We don’t ask questions of these brands in developing countries. We don’t test these products. Nestle’s own website advises against added sugar and yet it’s in products sold in low-income countries. Governments in poorer countries have weak laws, or do not implement the laws properly.”

But, wait a minute, what do India’s laws on infant food products say?

According to The Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992, no person is allowed to advertise, promote, and give “an impression that feeding of infant milk substitutes and infant foods are equivalent to, or better than, mother’s milk.”

'Sugar products are addictive and early exposure causes an inclination towards them,' explain experts.

The Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992.

However, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO have both recommended on multiple occasions that children under the age of two years not be given any foods that have added sugar.

Also noteworthy is the fact that this is not the first time that Nestle has been pulled up for such violations.

  • In 2018, the Changing Markets Foundation had stated in a report that Nestle’s infant milk formulas, sold in South Africa, had sucrose in them, while the product sold in other countries didn’t.

  • Similarly, Nestle’s baby milk powder sold in Hong Kong was free of vanilla flavourings, but contained the element in products sold in other places.

Dr Gupta adds, “Last year, an internal report of Nestle got leaked which clearly stated that over 60 percent of its food products were unhealthy and did not meet the health standards.”

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Next?

Responding to the allegations, a Nestle spokesperson told The Guardian, “We believe in the nutritional quality of our products for early childhood and prioritise using high-quality ingredients adapted to the growth and development of children.” 

Nestle India, in a statement released on 18 April, said, "Compliance is an essential characteristic of Nestlé India and we will never compromise on that. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards (a commission established by WHO and FAO) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements all nutrients including added sugars. Reduction of added sugars is a priority for Nestlé India."

It added that the brand has “reduced added sugars by up to 30 percent” in the past five years in the country. 

On a global level, in the past 10 years, Nestle claims to have reduced added sugars by 11 percent.

The investigating agencies, however, alleged that Nestle had “aggressively advertised these products as essential to children’s healthy development” and misled consumers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“Whereas Nestle recommends publicly to avoid baby foods that contain added sugar, it takes advantage of the weakness of existing regulations to continue selling such products in lower-income countries.”
Public Eye

Public Eye, in a press release, said, “A petition demands that Nestle put an end to this unjustifiable and harmful double standard, which contributes to the explosive rise of obesity and leads children to develop a life-long preference for sugary products.”

Dr Gupta agrees. He tells FIT, “As of now, the law is not implemented seriously and effectively in developing countries. What we need is an annual report of these brands and banning all products that do not meet the standards for healthy food for infants.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Sugar   Nestle 

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