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
A health claim is an attribute that gives food properties
to prevent, treat, cure or otherwise impact on human health or
- 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 babys digestive
- 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
- provides plasma essential amino acid patterns close to
those of breastfed infants
- all the benefits of iron fortification without the worry
- (protein hydrolysate) reduced incidence of atopy in high
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 babys nutritional needs change. Infant formulas
are non-living products and do not adapt to the infants
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
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.
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 cows 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
Claims are marketing tools and violate the International
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
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.