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S Afr Med J. 2019 Apr 29;109(5):328-332. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i5.13314.

Evidence for high sugar content of baby foods in South Africa.

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School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.



Early-life exposure to excess sugar affects eating behaviour and creates a predisposition to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). While reducing sugar consumption has been high on the public health agenda, little is known about the sugar content of baby foods.


To describe and analyse the sugar content of baby foods in South Africa (SA).


A cross-sectional study was conducted to analyse the sugar content of baby foods. The study sample included commercially available baby foods targeted at children aged <12 months, sold in supermarkets and by other major retailers in SA. Primary data were obtained from the packaging, and sugar content was compared with recommended intake guidelines. Bivariate analyses were conducted to determine whether there were any associations between the sugar content, added sugar and the characteristics of foods.


Over 70% of products were sweet in taste, with one in four containing added sugars. Sugar content was high in 78% of the foods sampled. Over 80% of cereals and pureed desserts contained added sugar. Fewer than 10% of pureed composite meal and pureed fruit and vege-table categories contained added sugar. Most products adhered to SA labelling standards, but none had front-of-pack nutritional information.


The SA baby food market is characterised by products with a high sugar content, promoting an environment that encourages development of sweet-taste preferences and in the long term contributing to the rising burden of NCDs. There is an urgent need for mandatory regulation of sugar in baby foods.

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