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Sugar, sodium crackdown urged for products marketed to children

THE government should limit the sugar and salt content of food products marketed to children as an anti-obesity measure, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

In a statement, UNICEF cited the need to crack down on “misleading and deceptive labeling” of food products targeted at the very young.

As a result, the number of overweight Filipino children has tripled since 2003, considered “high” under global standards, it said.

“Children have a right to good nutrition. Without updated and enforced food regulations to protect children, they will consume more unhealthy foods that have high sugar content and sweeteners,” UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov was quoted as saying in the statement.

“This can displace needed essential nutrients, harm their dental health, and cause them to prefer unhealthy food later in life, leading to obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases,” she said.

The government should monitor and enforce national regulations on sugar and salt content and enforce the proper labeling of commercially produced complementary food, the UNICEF said.

A recent study by the UNICEF and Complementary Foods in Southeast Asia (COMMIT) found that a third of food products marketed for Filipino babies and young children have added sugars and sweeteners.

It also found that unhealthy products were promoted for children up to three years old.

Nutrition labels did not come in Filipino languages, making it difficult for parents and caregivers to understand nutritional information in food products, according to the study.

Labels were seen focusing on claims on product composition or nutrient content, like “no artificial colors” and “100% natural,” but only 2% of product labels note the importance of continued breastfeeding.

While most of the products are under the recommended sodium thresholds, fortification levels for nearly all dry or instant cereal products do not meet standards. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz