Toddler milks are a scam, doctors warn

Toddlers do not need syrup-laden ‘transition drinks’ before switching from breast to milk, experts warn. 

In recent years, America has seen a boom in ‘toddler drinks’ – formulas of powdered milk, oil and syrup marketed for children between one and three years old.

But public health researchers at New York University and the University of Connecticut warn parents do not need the drinks, which pediatricians do not recommend given their sugary content.

Writing in a study published earlier this month, the team implored brands to more clearly label their drinks to show that they are not FDA recommended, and they contain unhealthy ingredients. 

‘Toddler drinks’ are formulas of powdered milk, oil and syrup marketed for children between one and three years old. But experts warn they are unnecessary if not dangerous

‘Toddler drinks are unnecessary and may undermine a nutritious diet, yet manufacturers have expanded their marketing of these products,’ lead author Jennifer L Pomeranz of NYU said.

‘Therefore, it is important for labels to be clear, transparent, and accurate.

‘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.’ 

Dr Pomeranz’s study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine with Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, analyzed how policies and regulations could clarify what toddler drinks are and why they aren’t recommended.

They found that there are two main types of toddler drinks. 

First, there are transition formulas for infants and toddlers aged nine months to two years old. 

Second, there are ‘toddler milks’ for children between one and three years old. 

Most toddler drinks are 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.

All of them are marketed and labeled as beneficial for a child’s nutrition and growth.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that children from the age of one drink cow’s milk in combination with eating healthy foods.

According to the World Health Organization, toddler drinks ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unsuitable’. The American Academy of Family Physicians says the formulas have no benefits for children over cow’s milk and fresh food.

The new paper builds on previous studies that warned some infant formulas may drive new parents to think that they are more beneficial to their baby than breastfeeding.  

‘Our study builds on previous research demonstrating that manufacturers’ marketing practices may undermine the diets of very young children,’ said Dr Pomeranz, JD, MPH, assistant professor of public health policy and management at the college of Global Public Health. 

To understand the situation when it comes to toddler drinks, as opposed to infant formula, the researchers assessed US food label laws and regulations.

They found clear policies for infant formulas, but nothing specific to toddler drinks.

They then bought a few samples of toddler drink formulas to look at their labels and claims.

Names vary from ‘toddler formula’ to ‘toddler drink’ to ‘toddler milk’ to ‘milk drink’.

All of them made at least one nutrition claim; most made multiple claims, and some claimed to have scientific evidence supporting the product.

One brand claimed to be the ‘#1 brand recommended by pediatricians for products*’ adding, ‘*Among products labeled for toddlers under 2’. That, however, is not true. 

‘All product labels made claims related to nutrition and health, and many made claims about expert recommendations that may lead caregivers to believe these products are necessary and healthy,’ Dr Pomeranz said. 

‘In fact, they are not recommended by health experts, as there is no evidence that they are nutritionally superior to healthy food and whole milk for toddlers.’

In order to foster healthy toddler diets, the researchers recommend that the FDA provide guidance or propose regulations to ensure the appropriate labeling of toddler drinks.  

Those changes could include forcing brands to add a warning on the label telling parents to consult a doctor before using it.

Brands should also make clear how the nutrition benefits of these ‘toddler milks’ differ from infant formula and normal milk.