Food Safety Focus (102nd Issue, January 2015) – Food Safety Platform
Nutrition Claims on Formula Products and Foods for Infants and Young Children
Reported by Ms. Melissa LIU, Scientific Officer,
Risk Assessment Section,
Centre for Food Safety
This article is the first of a series of three articles that focus on nutrition claims and health claims in formula products and foods for infants and young children ("IYC food").
"Nutrition claim" (includes "nutrient content claim" and "nutrient comparative claim") means any representation which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular nutritional properties. It can be found on many prepackaged foods, including those for infants and young children.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) opines that nutrition claims shall not be permitted for foods for infants and young children (including formula products) except where specifically provided for in relevant Codex standards or national legislation. However, nutrition claims on these products are still allowed in some countries when specific conditions are fulfilled. For example, in the USA, foods for children aged over two years can make "high calcium" claim when the product contains more than 160 mg calcium per serving; "More calcium" is permitted when a serving of the product has 80 mg calcium more than another product being compared.
Certain Nutrition Claims Provide Useful Information
Nowadays, manufacturers often add various nutrients to follow-up formula due to their possible additional health effects to certain children, although these nutrients are not considered essential to children's growth and development. To highlight the properties of these voluntarily added nutrients, they make claims such as "contains DHA". There are views that such claims may help carers compare similar products in the market and make informed purchasing decisions.
In fact, in places such as Canada and the USA, traditionally there are formula products with low and high amounts of iron. Some products with iron content of at least 1 mg/100 kcal may be marked as "with iron" to help parents distinguish them from their counterparts.
Besides, similar to other prepackaged foods, certain IYC foods are available in different versions. For example, when fruit juice for young children comes with both the regular version and a "less sugar" version, the "less sugar" claim on the product may help carers quickly identify the healthier choice. Similarly, "low sodium" claim on IYC foods may facilitate carers make meal plans for their child, following the dietary guidelines of reducing sodium intake.
Are Products With Nutrition Claims Healthier or Better than Those Without?
Infant formulae are the only food which wholly fulfil the nutrition requirement of non-breastfed infants during their first few months of life. To meet infants' nutritional need and fulfil the international (Codex) or national requirements, the nutrient contents of these products are carefully crafted and may not have any major differences. An infant formula with nutrition claim does not necessarily mean that it carries more health benefits than those without such claim.
Sometimes, the nutritional property described by the nutrition claim on a product is due to the natural characteristic of a food, rather than any special formulation or processing. For example, cow's milk is a natural source of calcium; a product claimed to be "source of calcium" may not necessarily be "more nutritious" as it likely has similar calcium content as those without the claim.
Products with "low fat" claims may be a good option for older children and adults to limit dietary fat intake. However, infants and young children below two years old should avoid limiting fat intake in their normal diet as they need adequate fat for proper growth and development. For these children, foods with "low fat" claims are neither superior nor suitable choices.
As illustrated by the above examples, while some nutrition claims on formula products and IYC foods provide important information, others may not always be useful in making smart food choices. Parents and care-givers can read the nutrition label to understand the nutritional property of the food product.