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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 18:18 GMT
Fast food 'used to wean babies'
By Alison Holt
BBC Social Affairs Correspondent

Junk food
Not suitable for a baby
Parents are putting junk food such as burgers in the blender to feed to their babies, a BBC Six O'Clock News investigation has found.

Some mothers said they had been told to blend up whatever they were eating to wean their child.

One baby from Croydon, south London, needed hospital care for high salt levels after being weaned on instant gravy.

Eight out of ten health visitors surveyed said more children are now eating an unbalanced diet.

Health visitors from East Hull, Camden, East Yorkshire, Canterbury and Glasgow all reported seeing regular incidences of babies and toddlers being given mashed up fried chicken, burgers, Chinese take-away or other fast-food in place of home cooked foods - some even before a suitable weaning age.

In St Helen's chips were given to eight-week-old babies.

The salt and fat content of these foods can result in obesity, and in some cases more serious effects.

Health visitors interviewed for the report were worried that there was no proper concept of 'children's food' - other than that which is aggressively marketed towards children.

For example, in Bracknell, Berkshire, a respondent reported babies regularly receiving crisps instead of baby biscuits to teethe on.

The use of sweets and biscuits to calm young children down was frequently mentioned.

One health visitor from Tyneside said: "There is still a belief that spoiling children is OK, and that usually involves sugary foods, before babies are even old enough to handle solids".

Labelling problems

Food classes
Health visitors are running food classes
Even in cases where mothers were making an effort to eat "healthily" this was undermined by confusion over labelling.

Ready meals marked '98% fat free', or 'Healthy option' disguised high salt levels and a lack of fresh ingredients.

Health visitors from all over the country pleaded for clearer labelling - sodium should be labelled as salt, fructose as fruit sugar for example.

As one Glasgow professional put it: "These parents don't have a science degree."

They also blamed intensive marketing of fast food for making healthy food seem dull and unfashionable.

Many health visitors said they were daunted by challenge of trying to break patterns of unhealthy eating which were embedded into families.

One respondent from Suffolk told the BBC: "In families of young mums, girls who don't know how to cook are now grandmas, and so there are no skills there to pass on, and no one to ask."

Some health visitors have been trying to address the lack of knowledge by setting up communal cooking sessions for young mothers.

However, one health visitor from Hillingdon graphically summed up the challenge they faced.

"When I told them to boil up some carrots and potatoes and mash them up together they would nod, and then come up afterwards to ask what I meant."

Mothers 'put babies on diets'
14 Jul 03  |  Health
Early diet 'crucial for babies'
28 Mar 03  |  Health
Egg boost for babies
14 Nov 03  |  Health

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