British toddlers have one of the worst diets in the world

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British toddlers are being raised on the worst diets in the world, a damning new study reveals. The majority of calories consumed come from ready-made foods linked to a plethora of health problems, according to First Steps Nutrition Trust.

Analysis of children’s diets in eight countries showed under-5s in the UK consume the most mass-manufactured foods, with instant meals making up almost two thirds of their average energy intake.

Research has linked popular ultra-processed baby and toddlers – like biscuits, puff and stick-style crisps, purée pouches and ready meals – with weight gain and growth problems.

They are marketed as healthy and easy to prepare options and come in colourful packaging but are made by industrial processing. Some contain additives like flavourings, emulsifiers, colourings and preservatives.

They typically contain less nutrients and are laden with more calories, sugar and salt than less-processed options, or home-cooked meals.

Vicky Sibson, First Steps Nutrition Trust director, said: “Ultra-processed foods dominate the diets of infants and young children in the UK and there are several good reasons to be concerned about this.”

Figures show more than 21 million UK adults will be obese by 2040 – almost four in 10 of the population. Young people with obesity are around five times more likely to remain so in adulthood – posing a major threat to their lifelong health, including increasing their risk of cancer later in life.

In July 2020, as part of its tackling obesity strategy, ministers announced plans to slap a 9pm watershed on TV advertising for products high in fat, salt and sugar.

This move has now been delayed until October 2025, after the General Election, despite the chronic UK-wide health epidemic.

Part of the reason, although not officially stated, is the cost of living emergency gripping Britain with industrially-manufactured and processed foods nearly always cheaper and more convenient.

But health campaigners argue delays on acting to legislate will see the NHS crippled with the fallout. Three of the five cancers with the biggest rises in death rates over the past 20 years – liver, womb and kidney – are linked to obesity.

Some 41 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds are overweight or obese as the temptation of junk food proves irresistible. Fat youngsters are five times more likely to remain so in adulthood.

One in 20 cancer cases is caused by excess weight with fat linked to 13 different types of the killer disease.

The Government’s own analysis shows a roll-out of TV advertising ban on junk food could reduce the number of children with obesity by more than 20,000.

The England football team, which reached the quarter finals of the World Cup last month and whose players are idolised by millions of children, trousers eye-watering amounts of money in sponsorship from a string of corporate giants including Snickers, Lucozade, and Coca-Cola.

Last month doughnut maker Krispy Kreme heralded the New Year by embarking on a UK marketing campaign in which it urged people to “kickstart January”, encouraging people to buy sugar-laden products to “brighten up treat time”, adding: “It’s easy to say yes”.

Tam Fry, Chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “We will demand [Chancellor Jeremy Hunt] finds the money to implement a proper obesity strategy. In the years he was Health Secretary he did next to nothing to combat obesity. From 2016 he promised draconian measures but delivered none of them.

“He told me he had tried – but obviously didn’t try hard enough. Now he can deliver on his most recent demand, as Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, that [former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s] 2020 obesity plan – which was only an attempt to roll back obesity – is reinstated immediately. But it has to be more comprehensive.”

Breast, bowel, pancreatic, oesophageal, gallbladder, womb, ovarian, kidney, liver, upper stomach, myeloma, meningioma, and thyroid cancer are all linked to obesity.

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