Making sure that kids get not only enough to eat, but that they are eating wholesome foods that will help them grow up to be healthy and strong is a constant source of anxiety for parents. For many of us, the quest for providing meals is aided by the abundance of prepared foods that are available on the market. From snacks to beverages, and even complete meals, food manufacturers seems to have parents covered.

However, things are not always as they may seem. In fact, a new Canadian paper has revealed that more than half of the food products in Canada geared towards babies and toddlers had excessive amounts of sugar. In some instances, more than 20% of the calories came from the sugar content alone. Though the study focused on foods in Canada, the data would presumably have relevance to foods sold in the United States.

Researchers gathered 186 baby and toddler food products and measured their sodium and sugar levels. Products that were analyzed included pureed dinners and desserts, toddler entrees, cereals, and snacks, which included cookies, fruit snacks, and yogurts.

The study examined the assumption that foods geared towards babies and toddlers would be more nutritious, or at least less unhealthy, than processed snack foods available to adults. This perception is also known as a "halo effect."

According to the findings, published in the Journal of Public Health, a comparison between toddler foods and their adult counterparts found that the halo effect for children's foods is not necessarily true. In fact, in certain instances, these foods were worse, particularly when it involved sugar content.

The situation is complicated by the fact that there are no universal guidelines regarding sugar content in baby food. The American Heart Association (AHA) has daily recommendations for adult men and women (nine teaspoons and six teaspoons, respectively), but there are no "added sugar" recommendations for young children.

Because of this lack, the authors of the study employed an alternative set of established guidelines, namely that foods are designated as having poor nutritional quality if more than 20% of their calories come from sugar. Within this set of rules, it turned out that 53% of the foods examined fit the criteria, with sugar (or some sugar equivalent) being one of the first four ingredients in 40% of the products. In 19% of the foods, sugar was the first or second ingredient. Ingredients are listed in their order of prevalence, from highest to lowest.

The findings highlight the need for parents to be wary of what they are feeding their children, especially if the foods are not being prepared from scratch. According to the authors of the study, it also begs the question of why food manufacturers feel the need to add sugar (beyond natural fruit sugars) aimed at such young children. In doing so, they may be initiating a process that could encourage children to develop unhealthy eating habits an early age.