Lack Of Standards For Baby Cereals Puts Health Of Children In Low-Income Countries At Risk
Premixed cereals can be an excellent source of nourishment for babies by the time they reach six months. Not only do they contain solid foods necessary for healthy child development, but they are also affordable and readily available for parents to buy.
However, a new study reveals that a lack of consistency in the nutritional content of such complementary foods could result in children not getting enough nutrients to support their growth.
Researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts along with their colleagues from abroad examined premixed infants cereals manufactured locally in 21 different Asian and African countries as well as those from Haiti.
They wanted to know if the products from these countries — all which can be considered low- and middle-income nations based on the World Bank's definition — have the proper nutritional content that young children need.
While some premixed infants cereals were able to meet the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, others lack nutrients that are important to healthy growth.
Premixed Infant Cereals
Stunted growth often occurs in children who do not receive enough nourishment at a young age. Those who suffer from the condition are at a higher risk of illness and early death.
According to the WHO, kids with stunted growth also experience a delay in their mental development, causing them to perform poorly in school. This in turn significantly affects economic productivity in their country as a whole.
Child malnutrition can be linked to almost half of all deaths involving children below five years old, which the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says is an ongoing problem in many Asian and African countries.
Feeding children with premixed cereals can help alleviate the effects of malnutrition, especially since many variants are cheap and easily accessible for parents in poorer countries.
However, not all complementary foods are complete with nutrients. The Tufts University study showed that only 15 percent of products examined were able to meet standards for fat content, while only about 25 percent of them had enough zinc and iron content to meet benchmarks.
Zinc and iron are two important nutrients that are not abundantly present in breast milk. Six-month-old children need these two in order to have healthy development.
With these inconsistencies in nutritional content, the researchers believe a child could suffer from zinc and iron deficiency by the time they reach six to nine months old, and dietary fat deficiency by the time they reach 12 months old. This could occur even though they receive breast milk along with the sampled premixed cereals.
Inconsistent Information In Food Packaging Labels
Another problem is that some of the examined complementary foods failed to specify the appropriate caloric, protein and fat contents on their packaging labels. Others even listed inconsistent zinc and iron contents, which could sometimes exceed or fall short of the values on their labels.
The researchers suggest that independent testing and verification can help ensure that premixed cereals have the correct amounts of dietary nutrients. This can also increase consumers' trust on locally-made products.
William Masters, a food economist from Tufts University and one of the authors of the study, said that introducing independent services for quality assurance can help build markets for high-quality products.
He explained that the manufacture of complementary foods can benefit from third-party certification programs, which could be established through the help of public, private, or even those from philanthropic sectors.
The findings of the Tufts University study are featured in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition.