Formulas & Milks Made for Toddlers Are Being Called Out for Bogus Health Claims


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There are dozens of products on the market that promise to help make our kids healthier. One of the most prominent is "specially formulated" toddler drinks that are typically sold right beside the infant formula. Toddler formula, sometimes simply referred to as toddler milk, is a product that promises to supplement the diets of toddlers ages 9 months to 3 years, who have aged out of infant formulas and are being weaned from breastfeeding. The companies that make these drinks draw parents in with promises of high nutritional value and health benefits. But as a new study recently uncovered, the supposed health benefits of these drinks don't really exist.

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The study, conducted by researchers from NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, ultimately determined that many US "toddler formula" makers convince parents that their products are nutritious through bogus health claims and with false labeling.

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Researchers visited stores to collect and evaluate different items labeled "toddler formula," "toddler drink," "toddler milk," and "milk drink." They found that most of the drinks made at least one health or nutrition claim, and many of them made multiple claims on the same label. Science Daily also reports that many of the brands boasted scientific or expert support for their products. Researchers noted one label even called itself the "#1 brand recommended by pediatricians," despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not expressly recommend toddler drinks for children. 

Despite these claims, scientists found that the vast majority of toddler drinks they tested offered very little nutritional value. Instead, they were "primarily composed of powdered milk, corn syrup or other added sweeteners, and vegetable oil, and contain more sodium and less protein than cow's milk." In other words, it's probably healthier to just give kids regular milk.


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With more than half of American babies at risk of suffering malnutrition before their second birthdays, many are now speculating that these toddler drinks could be contributing to the problem. The study's lead author, Jennifer L. Pomeranz, said that "manufacturers' marketing practices may undermine the diets of very young children."

This is especially troubling when you consider the fact that these drinks aren't a necessity. Most parents have probably passed these drinks in the baby aisle and wondered if they should buy them for their own kids, especially if their children happen to be picky eaters. But the World Health Organization called toddler drinks and follow-up formulas "unnecessary and unsuitable," while the American Academy of Family Physicians explicitly recommends that parents refrain from giving them to their toddlers, and give them cow's milk instead to ensure their diet is well-rounded and nutritious.

Researchers with this study believe the false labeling and misleading marketing of these products is so widespread because of lack of regulation. Further investigation discovered that food label laws in the US have clear, distinct rules for what can and cannot be claimed on infant formulas, but there are no specific rules for toddler drinks.

Researchers are now encouraging the FDA to create regulations on toddler drink labeling. They want the FDA to force manufacturers to include statements telling parents to consult a physician before use, to only make nutritional and health claims that are accurate, and to clearly differentiate between infant formula, transition formula, and toddler drinks.

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"Toddler drinks are unnecessary and may undermine a nutritious diet, yet manufacturers have expanded their marketing of these products. Therefore, it is important for labels to be clear, transparent, and accurate," said Pomeranz. "The FDA and manufacturers should work together to end the inappropriate labeling of toddler drinks and ensure caregivers have reliable information to nutritiously feed their children."

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