Dentists have warned that some popular baby food pouches are more sugary than Coca-Cola, amid an “epidemic” of tooth decay among young children.

A survey by the British Dental Association (BDA) of 109 pouches aimed at children under 12 months old found that more than a quarter contained more sugar by volume than Coca-Cola.

Fruit-based pouches marketed as for infants as young as four months old contained sugar levels the equivalent of up to 150% of the soft drink, according to the findings.

Almost 40% of products surveyed were marketed at babies “four months plus” despite both UK and World Health Organisation guidance recommending weaning from six months old.

The findings jarred with marketing claims that the products contained only “naturally occurring sugars” or “no added sugar”, or that they were “nutritionally approved” or in line with infants’ “nutritional and developmental needs”, the BDA said.

Redhill And Reigate Life: Some companies with high sugar products tried to sell them on having "no added sugar" or being "high in fibre" to sell the pouch as a healthy choice (PA)Some companies with high sugar products tried to sell them on having "no added sugar" or being "high in fibre" to sell the pouch as a healthy choice (PA)

All products found to be high in sugar adopted so-called “halo” labelling, focusing on their “organic” status or that they were “high in fibre” or contained “1 of your 5 a day”, potentially misleading parents into thinking they were making healthy choices, the report warned.

Brands such as Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel were singled out by the BDA for appearing to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own-brand alternatives.

Certain manufacturers claimed high levels of natural or locked-in sugar was inevitable with their fruit-based pouches, although the research found other companies were able to offer similar products with around half the sugar of the worst offenders.

The BDA also warned that infants often sucked directly from the pouches, for the convenience of caregivers while on the move. This ensured the food spent more time in contact with baby teeth and increased the risk of erosion and decay.

The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to consult imminently on the marketing and labelling of infant food. Dentist leaders said the excessive levels of sugar in many infant pouches warranted action, including clearer “traffic light” labelling and potential expansion of the Sugar Levy to encourage reformulation.

BDA chairman Eddie Crouch said: “Disingenuous marketeers are giving parents the impression they are making a healthy choice with these pouches. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Claims of ‘no added sugar’ are meaningless when mums and dads end up delivering the lion’s share of a can of Coke to their infants.

“Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, and sugar is driving this epidemic. These products sadly risk hooking the next generation before they can even walk.

“Ministers need to break the UK’s addiction. They must ensure sugar becomes the new tobacco, especially when it comes to our youngest patients.”

A spokeswoman for Annabel Karmel said: “Annabel Karmel’s organic purees are inspired by her much-loved homecooked recipes. They are specially designed for babies and contain 100% fruit with no added salt or sugar. The limited sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars found in the fruits used.”