Consumer protection in Hong Kong
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Public health agencies in the US and Britain recommend that young children do not consume food and beverages with added sugar. Photo: Shutterstock

Most baby snacks on market contain free sugars and added salt, going against public health guidelines, Hong Kong consumer watchdog finds

  • Of 37 samples of pre-packaged baby snacks tested, including rice crackers, puffs and yogurt melts, just six did not contain free sugar or added salt
  • Consumer Council also finds 13 baby snacks with ingredients that exceed the government’s ‘high-sugar’ reference level

Most baby snacks contain free sugars while more than a third have added salt, going against the recommendations of international health agencies, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found.

The Consumer Council also uncovered 13 baby snacks with ingredients that exceeded the government’s “high-sugar” reference level.

The council on Monday revealed it had tested 37 samples of pre-packaged baby snacks on the market, including rice crackers, puffs and yogurt melts. Just six samples did not contain free sugar or added salt.

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Almost 80 per cent, or 29, of the samples specified for infants under 24 months old had traces of free sugars such as added sugar and concentrated fruit juice. Public health agencies in the United States and Britain had recommended that children younger than two years old did not consume food and beverages with added sugar, the watchdog noted.

Of the 25 samples with sugar content provided, 13 exceeded the high-sugar reference level set by Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety for general food. A yogurt melt snack was found to have the highest level, such that if a one-year-old boy ate 1.3 packets he would exceed the daily limit of free sugar intake recommended by the World Health Organization.

The council also noted that a raisin biscuit’s packaging claimed to have no added sugar or salt yet it had 11 per cent concentrated grape juice on its list of ingredients.

According to local regulations on baby snacks, nutrition labels should list total fat and sodium levels, but sugar content is not mandatory.

“We believe there is [a] need to review the current regulation and include sugar as the necessary nutrition ingredient so the public and parents can have more information to select the right snacks and food for their children,” council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Of the 12 samples with added salt, 11 were specified for children aged younger than one year old. But according to international health agencies, salt should not be added to food for children under that age.

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A rice cracker sample had the highest salt content, reaching the local “high-sodium” reference level.

The council said children who ate “strong-tasting” food might develop a preference for such flavourings in adulthood.

Excessive intake of sugar could result in an increased risk of tooth decay, obesity and the chance of developing chronic diseases, while too much sodium could affect bone growth, it warned.

The Centre for Food Safety told the Post on Monday that it would keep an eye on the latest international developments. It also called on residents to avoid buying baby snacks with added sugars.

The centre also said authorities in 2014 had referred to regulations established by various jurisdictions when setting out nutrition-labelling requirements for prepackaged baby food. However, it noted there had been no consistent standard for showcasing sugar content.