The formula may be right for babies, but experts warn that babies don’t need it

Formulas for toddlers are a booming business in the U.S.: Sales of the drink have more than doubled in recent years as companies convince parents that their little ones need increased fluids. But many experts warn that these products, designed for children ages 1 to 3, do not meet any nutritional needs beyond what is found in a typical toddler diet, are subject to less regulation than infant formula, and are expensive.

In addition, some parents feed babies infant versions even though they do not meet federal standards for infant formula and may not provide enough nutrients for babies to maintain their growth.

Pediatricians and federal health officials say that by the time most babies are 1 year old, they can start drinking cow’s milk or an unsweetened plant-based milk substitute. In a 2019 “consensus” statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health and nutrition organizations recommended against using toddler formulas, saying, “They provide no unique nutritional value beyond what can be obtained with healthy foods; in addition, they add added sugars to the diet.” can contribute.” Baby formulas often contain sweeteners and fats that add calories.

Some companies that make baby formula, including Enfamil, Gerber, and Similac, also make baby formula, as do some smaller, boutique brands that advertise that they are organic or have other special qualities. Baby formulas are available almost everywhere baby formulas are sold and are marketed to provide extra nutrients to help babies develop brain, immune system 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 from $39 million in 2006 to $92 million in 2015.

According to a study led by Jennifer Harris, a marketing and public health researcher at the University of Connecticut, parents are often confused by marketing for formulas. She found that 60% of caregivers falsely believe that infant formula contains nutrients that young children cannot get from other foods.

Yale University pediatric gastroenterologist and professor of pediatrics. Anthony Porto says he’s concerned these products may give kids more nutrients and calories than they need. Unlike what’s designed for babies, toddler formula has no nutritional rules: experts say it’s impossible to standardize a supplement in a baby’s diet because no two babies are alike.

In focus groups, Harris said, parents feeding their babies formula to fill nutritional gaps when a child isn’t eating enough is a common concern among parents.

“Kids are often picky eaters,” says Dr. Stephen Daniels, chair of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado. But around one year of age, babies’ growth plateaus, she says, and “they’re suddenly not as hungry as they used to be.” That can worry parents, he added, but “it’s a completely normal occurrence.”

If parents have concerns about their child’s diet, they should consult with 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 store brands, said in an email that baby formulas can be helpful because they “fill nutritional gaps during this period of transition.” These drinks help meet the specific nutritional needs of children by providing them with energy and important nutrients as well as essential vitamins and minerals during this critical period of growth and development, said Lincoln, a former U.S. senator from Arkansas.

But toddler formula isn’t being consumed by babies alone—it’s being fed to babies, too. In a recent study, Porto and colleagues found that 5% of parents reported giving their children drinks marketed 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 conducted before the recent infant formula shortage, which may have exacerbated the problem.

“Infant formula and toddler formula sit next to each other in the supermarket,” Harris said. “They look similar, but baby formulas are cheaper than infant formulas. So people confuse them and they catch the mistake. Or they think, ‘Oh, it’s less expensive. I’ll bring this instead.’

According to an email from FDA spokeswoman Lindsay Haack, children’s 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 go through the clinical trials and pathogen safety tests that the infant versions do. “Unlike infant formula, baby formulas are not necessarily designed to meet the nutritional needs of their intended consumers,” Hacke said.

In a statement to KHN, the Infant Nutrition Council of America said, “Toddler beverages have a distinct use and nutritional makeup from infant formula; The two are not interchangeable. Children’s nutrition drink labels clearly identify the product as a toddler drink intended for children 12 months and older on the front of the package label.

However, several expensive toddler formula brands made by smaller companies – often advertised as made from goat’s milk, A2 whole milk (which does not contain a common milk protein) or vegan ingredients other than soy – meet the nutritional requirements for babies, and some Advertise that.

Harris argued that it also confuses parents and should not be allowed. Just because a toddler 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 compliance actions.”

One company, Nature’s One, whose baby formulas are labeled “Baby’s Only,” received a warning letter from the FDA a decade ago about marketing them to infants. 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 the language implies that formula is good for babies under 1 year old. The company’s website and its Instagram account feature customer testimonials from parents who feed their babies the formula, as well as photos of babies drinking it.

Jay Hyman, CEO and President of Nature’s One, said Baby’s Only is clearly labeled as a toddler formula and the back of the can states that “Baby’s Only is for children 1 year of age and older or as directed by a health care professional. ” He also said that since the company launched in 1999, its formulas have met all the nutritional, manufacturing and safety standards required of infant formula even though they are not required. “We’ve acted like we’re an infant formula, but we’re selling it as a toddler formula,” Hyman said.

He said that the clinical trials required by the FDA are a huge barrier to bringing a new infant formula to market, and many other countries do not require clinical trials. Babies recently completed a clinical trial, he said, and the company hopes to soon be able to sell it as an infant formula.

Yet pediatricians and nutritionists continue to warn parents about using the drink in children. “There’s no question that baby formula is very important in the first year of life,” Daniels said. But he doesn’t recommend the toddler version “because it’s not as useful, because it’s confusing, because it’s expensive.”

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