Fall 98 Newsletter INFACT Canada


Infant foods and health claims

The marketing of infant foods requires the creation of not only a need but also a “healthy” image for these products. Promotional literature for products such as infant formula are peppered with statements which suggest health benefits and nutritional superiority. These statements are referred to as health, nutrient content, and nutrient function claims. We question the legitimacy of many of these claims. Do they transgress Canadian advertising regulations? Are they truthful? Do they violate the International Code?

Health claims

A health claim is an attribute that gives food properties to prevent, treat, cure or otherwise impact on human health or disease.

  • that the product decreases the incidence of diarrhoea
  • that the product supports development in the areas of eyesight development, problem-solving ability, hand and language skills, and crawling and walking close to that of breastfed infants
  • that the product is gentle on your baby’s digestive system
  • that the product is nutritionally close to breastmilk.

Nutrient function claims

Nutrient function claims are attributes associated with a specific nutrient present in the food or added to the food.

  • has a unique fat blend that is balanced to give your baby the essential fatty acids necessary for optimal growth and visual development
  • provides plasma essential amino acid patterns close to those of breastfed infants
  • all the benefits of iron fortification without the worry of constipation
  • (protein hydrolysate) reduced incidence of atopy in high risk infants.

Nutrient content claims

Nutrient content claims are quantitative or qualitative declarations of the presence of specific nutrients naturally found in the foods or added to food products.

  • high in iron
  • an excellent source of niacin, vitamin B2, vitamin B1, iron and calcium
  • a source of niacin for young children
  • low in saturated fats.


Why claims should not be permitted

Claims idealize infant and young child food products

  • Nutritionally close to breastmilk.

The nutrient composition, both quantitative and qualitative of infant formulas are very different from the composition of breastmilk. Important nutrients found in breastmilk are missing in infant formulas. Nutrient ratios in infant formulas are very different from those in breastmilk. For example amino acid ratios as well as essential fatty acid ratios are very different from those found in breastmilk. These differences have significant and negative impact on the health and development of infants and young children.

Moreover, the nutritional composition of breastmilk changes as the baby’s nutritional needs change. Infant formulas are non-living products and do not adapt to the infant’s needs.

Health and nutrient function claims are untruthful

  • Supports visual, cognitive and psychomotor development close to that of breastfed infants.

No evidence has been reported in the literature to substantiate this claim. Also conversion rates of linoleic and linolenic acids to DHA and AA are very low and incomplete and a far cry from the amounts available in breastmilk.

Studies cited to support this claim showed no difference in visual acuity. Other studies allowed breastfed infants to consume commercial formulas from the ages of three months to 12 months, therefore could not be a true control group. In other studies listed, the test group was not directly compared to the breastfed group.

Nutrient content claims are misleading

  • An excellent source of iron, calcium and B vitamins.

Fortification nutrients usually have a very low absorption rate and are added to highly refined products such as infant cereals and infant biscuits. These products are high in starch and have a low nutrient density.

  • Low in saturated fats.

Products may be low in saturated fats and still contain high levels of trans fatty acids, therefore this claim misleads.

Claims make comparisons to artificially-fed infants

  • Specially processed to be easier to digest. Closer than it has ever been to breast-milk.

If claims are to be truthful then the comparisons should be made to the normal infant feeding standard, which is breastfeeding. Truthful comparisons would state that artificially fed infants have a higher incidence of diarrhoeal disease, otitis media, atopic disease, acute respiratory infections etc.

  • Reduces incidence of atopy in high risk infants.

Is the reduced incidence a comparison to breastfed infants or to cow’s milk fed infants? Breastmilk is the standard by which to make these comparisons. The incidence of atopy will actually be higher for high risk infants compared to breastfed infants.

Claims are marketing tools and violate the International Code

Claims make comparisons between infant feeding options and products that parents may choose to feed their babies. The frequent comparisons made to breastmilk such as closer to breastmilk than it has ever been before or stool consistency similar to breast fed babies implies that the product has similar characteristics to breastmilk and therefore is to be considered an equal choice between breastfeeding and artificial feeding. Such claims must be seen as statements to promote the products in direct competition with breastmilk. This is contrary to the International Code, which aims to protect breastfeeding and provide accurate and reliable information to new parents. Additionally this form of idealization is in contravention of Article 9 of the International Code.

What you can do. Write:

The Honourable Allan Rock
Minister of Health
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2


Let him know that health claims should not be permitted for infant foods (all infant formula, complementary foods and drinks) and the reasons why.

Send copies to INFACT Canada as well as any examples you find of health and other nutrient content claims.

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