Parents have been issued an urgent warning by dentists amid an “epidemic” of tooth decay among young children.

Many popular baby food pouches are more sugary than Coca-Cola according to a survey by the British Dental Association (BDA).

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.

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.

Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel singled out by BDA

The BDA singled out “boutique” brands including market leaders Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel for appearing to have higher levels of sugar than traditional baby food brands or own-brand alternatives.

Manufacturers said high levels of natural or locked-in sugar was inevitable with fruit-based pouches, but some brands managed to offer similar products containing around half the sugar of the worst offenders, the survey found.

BDA issue warning over ‘number one reason for hospital admissions among young children’

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.”