Nestlé adds more sugar to baby food sold in lower- and middle-income countries, while more affluent markets get healthier versions, according to a recent report released by a nonprofit group.

The Swiss food giant’s products in lower-income countries contained up to 7.3 grams of added sugar per serving, while the same food sold in Europe often contained none, according to the findings of an investigation by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), based on data from the market analysis company Euromonitor.

The Swiss nonprofit group Public Eye denounced what it called Nestlé’s “harmful double standard,” which contributes to an increase in obesity “and leads children to develop a lifelong preference for sugary products.”

The report compared the sugar content of Cerelac instant cereal and Nido powdered milk, two of Nestlé’s best-selling baby food brands in low- and middle-income countries, which raked in more than $2.5 billion in 2022.

In Thailand, Ethiopia, South Africa, India and Bangladesh, among others, Nestlé added up to 6 grams of sugar per serving of Cerelac. The same brand was sold containing zero sugar in Britain and Germany. Cerelac had on average 4 grams of sugar per serving — or about one sugar cube — in countries in the Global South. Cerelac sold in the Philippines contained the highest amount of added sugar, with 7.3 grams per serving.

In several countries, including the Philippines, Nigeria, Senegal, Vietnam and Pakistan, added sugar content was not declared on the packaging.

In a statement on Monday, Nestlé said the variations in sugar content across countries depended on “several factors, including regulations and availability of local ingredients, which can result in offerings with lower or no-added sugars.” The company added that this does not “compromise the nutritional value of our products for infants and young children.”

“In European countries, consumer pressure has driven Nestlé to remove added sugar from their baby food products,” Laurent Gaberell and Manuel Abebe, researchers at Public Eye who were involved in the report, wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “We regret that the company has nevertheless decided to continue adding sugar in lower-income countries.”

The same trend was detected in Nido products to a lesser degree. An analysis of the brand showed that its products contained an average of 2 grams of added sugar per serving, with Nido items sold in Panama containing the highest, at 5.3 grams per serving.

“Nestlé itself advises to avoid any added sugar at that age,” Gaberell and Abebe wrote. Nestlé says on its Brazilian website that it is ideal to avoid eating added sugar in childhood.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children younger than 2 years old “should not be fed foods and beverages with added sugars at all.”

The World Health Organization also advises parents and guardians not to add sugar to complementary foods for children 2 years or younger.

After the report’s release, officials in India sought investigations into its main allegations. Bangladeshi officials have also said they will look into “the issue of added sugar in baby foods,” according to a local report.

In the Philippines, a bill prohibiting additional sugar in baby food is pending in the Senate. A spokesman for the country’s Department of Health voiced support for its passage on Friday.

UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, urges “governments to regulate the nutritional value” of such foods, said Roland Kupka, the regional nutrition adviser for East Asia and the Pacific, in response to the report. The organization also called for the prohibition of added sugars and misleading marketing.

The findings are “disturbing,” Albert Domingo, a senior Philippine Health Department official, told The Post, “especially since the World Health Organization recommendation is apparently followed in other countries.”

Nestlé said it has reduced added sugars in its infant cereals portfolio worldwide by 11 percent and is phasing out added sugars from its “growing-up milk,” which is for children ages 12 to 36 months.

The company added that it is “important to distinguish between added and total sugars in our products.” For example, total sugars could include the lactose naturally present in milk or be from ingredients such as fruit, puree or honey.

Gaberell and Abebe of Public Eye said that added sugar “leads babies to develop a preference for overly sweet foods, setting them up for a lifelong diet of highly processed foods.”

Regine Cabato in Manila contributed to this report.

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