Field-testing of guidance on the appropriate labelling of processed complementary foods for infants and young children in South Africa

06 October 2015

There is a lack of formal guidance from international normative bodies on the appropriate marketing of processed complementary foods. Such guidance is necessary to protect and promote optimal infant and young child feeding practices. The aim of this study was to field-test, in South Africa, the interim guidance provided by the Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition Working Group's Draft Guide for Marketing Complementary Foods as a potential tool for use by manufacturers and national governments for guiding the appropriate labelling (as a subset of appropriate marketing practices) of complementary foods. This guidance was used to develop a checklist of questions and criteria for each possible answer, which was tested using a comprehensive database of labels from products purchased in South Africa from June to August 2011. One hundred and sixty product labels of 35 manufacturers were analysed, none of which complied with all checklist criteria. Fifty-six (35%) labels did not provide an appropriate age of introduction while 37 (23%) used images of infants appearing younger than 6 months. Nineteen (12%) labels suggested a daily ration too large for a breastfed child, and 32 (20%) potentially promote the manufacturer's infant formula. Only 58 (36%) labels were easy to read. The majority (69% and 92%) of labels provided instructions for safe and appropriate preparation/use and storage, respectively. The Draft Guide for Marketing Complementary Foods was found to be a useful tool for guiding the appropriate labelling of complementary foods, although some changes and additions are recommended to improve understanding, ease of use and to minimise the subjective interpretation of the guidance.