'Toddler Milks' Are Unregulated and Unnecessary

American Academy of Pediatrics weighs in
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 23, 2023 10:25 AM CDT
'Toddler Milks' Are Unregulated and Unnecessary
A can of toddler nutritional drink in Surfside, Florida, on June 17, 2022.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Powdered drink mixes that are widely promoted as "toddler milks" for older babies and children up to age 3 are unregulated, unnecessary, and "nutritionally incomplete," the American Academy of Pediatrics warns. The drinks, which are touted to parents on TikTok, in television ads, and on other sites, often contain added sugar and salt, reports the AP. The manufacturers make unproven claims that the drinks boost kids' brains or immune systems, says Dr. George Fuchs, a member of the AAP's nutrition committee, which released the new report. Formula industry officials said the drinks could be useful for filling "nutrition gaps" in kids' diets. But Fuchs said older babies and toddlers should be given a balanced diet of solid foods, as well as drink breast milk, fortified whole cow's milk, and water after age 1. Here's what else you should know about so-called toddler milks:

  • What are they? The powdered milk mixes are sold in cans and made to be mixed with water. They're often produced by the makers of top brands of infant formulas, packaged with similar labels, and sold in the same store aisles. The products are typically marketed for babies older than 6 to 12 months and preschoolers up to age 3 as nutritious drinks for the next stage of development.
  • Are they different than baby formula? Yes. Infant formula is regulated by the FDA and must meet certain nutritional requirements as a replacement for human milk for babies up to 12 months. The facilities where infant formula is made are regularly inspected. There are no federal regulations governing milk drink mixes for older babies and toddlers.
  • Why are health experts concerned? Fuchs and other experts point to the lack of common standards for toddler milks, which means the ingredients vary widely among brands. Most contain added sugar and are targeted toward children who are at the age when they could develop a lasting taste for sweets, possibly leading to obesity and other diseases. "It could be called the gateway sugary drink," said Frances Fleming-Milici, a research professor with the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health at the University of Connecticut.

  • How about versus cow's milk? The toddler milks are more expensive, and "they're not only not as good as cow's milk and a balanced diet, they're worse," said Fuchs, a pediatrics professor at the University of Kentucky.
  • The marketing: Toddler milks are widely advertised, and sales have soared in recent years, from $39 million in 2006 to $92 million in 2015, according to a 2020 study. Fleming-Milici said companies promote these products in a way that may lead parents to believe the drinks are nutritionally necessary. "They look a lot like infant formula," she says. "Parents really trust the formula they use for their children."
  • From the companies: Toddler milks are labeled explicitly for children older than 12 months and "can contribute to nutritional intake and potentially fill nutrition gaps," according to the Infant Nutrition Council of America. The trade group's members are top manufacturers of formula and toddler drinks, including Abbott Nutrition, Perrigo Nutrition, and Reckitt.
  • For parents: Families and health care providers should be better educated on toddler milks, which "have no specific role in routine care of healthy children," the AAP says. The group also wants requirements to ensure the products aren't linked to regulated infant formula or sold next to formula. A health group petitioned the FDA in 2020 to regulate toddler milks, but the agency is still reviewing the request. Families who want to ensure older babies and toddlers are getting the nutrition they need should rely on fortified grains and milks, protein, and fruits and vegetables, Fuchs said.
(More American Academy of Pediatrics stories.)

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