Infant formula is a booming business in America: Sales of these drinks have more than doubled in recent years as companies convince parents their children need the boost. But many experts warn that these products, designed for 1- to 3-year-olds, don’t meet nutritional needs beyond what a typical baby food provides, are subject to less regulation than infant formula, and are expensive.
Additionally, some parents feed babies toddler versions, even though they don’t meet federal standards for infant formula and may not provide babies with enough nutrients to support their growth.
Pediatricians and federal health officials say most babies can start drinking unsweetened cow’s milk or plant-based milk alternatives when they are older. In a 2019 “consensus” statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health and nutrition organizations recommended against using infant formulas, saying they “provide no unique nutritional value beyond what can be obtained from conventional foods.” healthy; Additionally, they may contribute added sugars to the diet.” Infant formulas often contain sweeteners and fats that add calories.
Some of the same companies that make baby formula — such as Enfamil, Gerber, and Similac — also make baby formula, as do some smaller and boutique brands that advertise organic or other special qualities. Baby formulas are available almost everywhere baby formulas are sold and are advertised as providing extra nutrients to help babies develop brains, immune systems and eyes, among other benefits. These are different from the medical formulas prescribed for children with special needs.
A 2020 study found that sales of infant formula in the United States increased to $92 million in 2015, up from $39 million in 2006.
According to a study led by University of Connecticut marketing and public health researcher Jennifer Harris, parents are often confused by formula marketing. Researchers found that 60% of caregivers falsely believed that infant formula contained nutrients they could not get from other foods.
Yale University pediatric gastroenterologist and professor of pediatrics. Anthony Porto says he’s concerned these products could be providing young children with more nutrients and calories than they need. Unlike what’s designed for babies, infant formula has no nutritional standards: experts say it’s impossible to standardize a supplement for a baby’s diet because no two babies are alike.
In focus groups, Harris said, parents say they feed their babies formula to fill nutritional gaps when a child isn’t getting enough to eat, a common concern among parents.
“Kids are often picky eaters,” says Dr. Stephen Daniels, chairman of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado. But around one year of age, babies’ growth plateaus, she says, and “suddenly they’re not as hungry as they used to be.” That can worry parents, he added, but “it’s a completely normal occurrence.”
If parents have questions about their child’s diet, they should consult a pediatrician or family doctor, Daniels said.
Blanche Lincoln, president of the Infant Nutrition Council of America, which represents the makers of Enfamil, Gerber, Similac and private label brands, said in an email that infant formulas can be helpful because they fill “the nutritional gaps during this period.” Time to set the dining table. Former Arkansas senator Lincoln said the drinks “help meet the specific nutritional needs of young children, providing energy and vital nutrients, as well as essential vitamins and minerals during this critical period of growth and development.”
But baby formula is consumed not only by toddlers, but also by babies.
In a recent study, Porto and colleagues found that 5% of parents reported giving their children beverages advertised for older ages. And Harris’ research indicated that 22% of parents of babies older than 6 months fed their babies infant formula in the previous month. Both studies were done before the recent formula shortage, which may have compounded the issue.
“Infant formula and toddler formula are often right next to each other in the supermarket,” Harris explains. “They look similar, but baby formulas are cheaper than infant formula. So people confuse them and accept the mistake. Or they think, ‘Oh, it’s cheap. I’m going to buy it.”
According to an email from FDA spokeswoman Lindsey Huck, infant beverages do not meet the definition of infant formula, so they are not subject to the same requirements. This means they don’t have to undergo the clinical trials and pathogen safety tests that the pediatric version does. “Unlike infant formula, toddler formula is not required to meet the nutritional needs of the intended consumer,” Hake said.
In a statement to KHN, the Infant Nutrition Council of America said, “Toddler beverages have different uses and nutritional composition than infant formula; Both are not interchangeable. Nutritional drink labels for young children clearly identify the product as a young children’s drink intended for children 12 months and older on the front of the package label.
However, many expensive brand-name infant formulas made by smaller companies—often advertised as made with goat’s milk, A2 whole milk (which does not contain a common milk protein), or non-soy vegan ingredients—meet the nutritional requirements. For children, and some advertise it.
Harris argued that it also confuses parents and should not be allowed. Just because an infant formula contains the nutrients required by the FDA for infant formula doesn’t mean it meets the other tests required of infant formula, he said.
Federal regulators have not forced the companies to recall those products. In an email, FDA spokeswoman Mariana Naum said: “FDA does not comment on potential enforcement actions.”
One company, Nature’s One, whose infant formulas are billed as “infant only,” received a warning letter from the FDA a decade ago about promoting them to children. That case was closed in 2016 The company’s website states that Baby’s Only formula “meets the nutritional needs of infants” and that “Baby’s Only Organic® can be served up to age 3.” Critics say such language implies that the formula is okay for children under 1 year old. The company’s website and Instagram account feature testimonials from parents who indicate they feed their babies formula, as well as photos of babies drinking it.
Nature’s One CEO and President Jay Hyman says Baby’s Only is clearly labeled as a toddler formula and the back of the can says “Baby’s Only for a 1-year-old.” or more or when directed by a health professional.” He added that since the company’s inception in 1999, its formulas have met all the nutritional, manufacturing and safety standards required of infant formulas, even though they are not required. “We’ve treated infant formula like that. , but we’re selling it as toddler formula,” Hyman said.
FDA-mandated clinical trials are a major barrier to bringing a new infant formula to market, he said, and clinical trials are not required in many other countries. Babies Only recently completed a clinical trial, he said, and the company hopes to soon be able to sell it as an infant formula.
However, pediatricians and nutritionists continue to warn parents against using the drink for young children. “There’s no question that infant formulas are very important in the first year of life,” Daniels says. But he doesn’t recommend the version for young children “because it’s not as useful, because it’s confusing, because it’s expensive.”
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