Article Text

Original research
Health-related marketing messages on product labels of commercial infant and toddler food packaging in Australia: a cross-sectional audit
  1. Lucy Simmonds1,
  2. Aimee L Brownbill1,2,3,
  3. Anthea Zee4,
  4. Merryn J Netting1,3
  1. 1 Women and Kids; Health Policy Centre, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  2. 2 Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Canberra, Canberra, Australia
  3. 3 School of Medicine; School of Public Health, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  4. 4 College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Merryn J Netting; merryn.netting{at}


Background Proper nutrition in early childhood is essential to ensure optimal growth and development. Use of ‘better-for-you’ features on food packaging position products as healthier for children. This study aims to systematically explore the use of better-for-you labelling on infant and toddler food packaging.

Methods A cross-sectional audit of health and nutrition claims, text and images used as ‘better-for-you’ features present on infant and toddler food packaging. Data on infant and toddler food packaging were collected from five large grocery stores in Adelaide, Australia in 2019. The content of 282 unique commercial products (n=215 infant foods, n=67 toddler foods) were analysed for explicit and implicit features positioning them as better-for-you, including health and nutrition claims as well as text and images representing ‘natural.’

Results At least one feature of better-for-you positioning was identified on all food packaging coded. All products had characteristics coded as ‘natural’. Almost one-fifth (17%) of the products included statements in addition to mandatory allergen labelling that their products were ‘free from’ certain allergens, or gluten. One-third of the labels had statements related to enhancing development of taste, oro-motor skills and other aspects of childhood development. Of the fruit and vegetable-based infant foods displaying a sugar statement suggesting a low sugar content, 85% were sweetened with fruit puree.

Conclusions The use of better-for-you features on infant and toddler food packaging is common and pervasive. Allergen-free and developmental claims are being used to position infant and toddler foods as better-for-you. Regulation of toddler food products separately from adult food is required, as is tighter regulation of the appropriate use of sugar and fruit puree statements on infant and toddler food packaging.

  • qualitative research

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Data may be shared on reasonable request via email (

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Data may be shared on reasonable request via email (

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  • Contributors Study concept and design: MJN, LS, ALB and AZ. Drafting the manuscript: MJN, LS and ALB.Comment and approval of the final draft of the manuscript: MJN, LS, ALB and AZ. Statistical expertise: MJN. Obtained funding: The present analyses were not funded. Administrative, technical or material support: MJN, LS, ALB and AZ. MJN acts as the guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.