Charlene D. Elliott, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication and the CIHR Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children’s Health at the University of Calgary, studies how food is marketed and its impact on children’s food habits, perceptions, and health. “Taste preferences form very early on and persist over time,” Elliott says. “Given this, you want to ensure that very young children are given the best quality food.”
One of Elliott’s studies, published in the Journal of Public Health, evaluated the sugar and sodium content of popular baby-food brands sold in Canada (many of which are also available in the United States). It found that “63 percent of products have either high levels of sodium or an excessive proportion of calories coming from sugar,” and that “over half (53 percent) of the products examined derive more than 20 percent of their calories from sugar.” In fact, certain packaged goods contain up to 80 percent of calories from sugar. “There is a presumed halo effect around baby and toddler foods because people expect these foods to be held to a higher standard. Yet this is not necessarily the case,” says Elliott.
The risks inside the jars don’t stop at salt and sugar. The lids of many baby-food jars contain the industrial chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). The FDA has expressed some concern that BPA can affect the brains, behavior, and prostate glands of fetuses, infants, and small children. And then there are all the chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics that go into raising the ingredients in nonorganic baby food. Not to mention the environmental toll taken by the hundreds of plastic containers and jars a baby and toddler will go through in the first few years. Is the risk really worth the perceived ease?