Toddler ‘Formulas’ Are Being Marketed as Healthy Drinks for Kids. They’re Not

A toddler drinking milk.
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that milk formulas for older babies are being marketed has healthy drinks but they are unnecessary, unhealthy, and lack vital nutrients. ilona titova/Getty Images
  • A new AAP report says toddler “formulas” are not needed and may be lacking nutrients.
  • They also tend to be high in added sugar.
  • Marketers often give a false impression that they are equivalent to infant formulas.
  • Medical professionals say a balanced diet is preferable to toddler formulas.
  • Children over 12 months can safely drink cow’s milk or plant-based milks.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Nutrition, toddler “formulas” for older babies and preschoolers are not necessarily the healthy drinks that marketers claim they are.

Their clinical report, which is being presented during the 2023 AAP Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C., states that toddler formulas are unnecessary as well as potentially lacking in certain vital nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D.

In a press release, lead author Dr. George J. Fuchs, III, commented that these drinks — which are often marketed as “follow-up formulas,” “weaning formulas,” or “toddler milks” — give the misleading impression to parents that they are a necessary part of a child’s healthy diet or that they are nutritionally equivalent to infant formula.

Additionally, they may be placed in the same aisle of stores where infant formulas are found, giving the impression that they are the recommended next step after weaning.

His co-author, Dr. Steven A. Abrams, further stated that it is “understandable” that families and caregivers of toddlers might be confused by the claims surrounding these beverages.

There are no federal regulations governing what goes into these drinks, the report explains. So, manufacturers often make health-related claims on their packaging even though they may not have gone through a scientific review process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Their report further details suggestions for how the problem should be dealt with. These include:

  • Babies under 12 months should be provided breast milk or infant formula.
  • Toddlers 12 months and older should eat a varied diet with fortified foods in order to provide them with optimal nutrition.
  • When it comes to marketing, there should be clear distinctions made between toddler formulas and standard infant formulas.
  • Pediatricians should review children’s nutrition and help caregivers adjust the child’s intake of solid foods or vitamin supplements as necessary.

Toddler formulas are loaded with sugar

Dr. Leah M. Alexander, a pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best, said one of the biggest issues with toddler formulas is that they contain excessive amounts of sugar, adding that the main reason they contain so much sugar is that they are unpalatable without it.

“When you look at the product labels, one of the first ingredients is some form of sugar, sometimes two or three types (i.e., cane juice, corn syrup, maltodextrin, etc.),” she said.

Alexander further explained that added sugar promotes tooth decay, which is a big concern for toddlers as they should have all their primary teeth by the age of 2.

Making sure that they are brushing their teeth can also be a challenge, she said.

“Additional dietary sugar fosters a preference for sweet tastes and can contribute to picky eating behaviors,” said Alexander. “It is also associated with obesity long term.”

Alexander stated that toddler formulas do have added vitamins. However, the sugar outweighs any benefits derived from them.

She additionally noted that many parents tend to rely on these drinks to augment the nutrition of picky eaters because they assume they will provide what their child is missing.

“Unfortunately, some children limit the variety of foods in their diet even further, knowing they will be given their ‘sweet milk,’ as some call it,” said Alexander.

A balanced diet is preferable to toddler formulas

Lauren Thayer, a registered nurse with experience in pediatrics, said toddler formulas often contain additives that manufacturers claim will do things like boost brain growth or aid immune system function.

However, she noted that studies show that these formulas provide nothing that a child couldn’t obtain from a balanced diet.

“In fact, many of these formulas contain artificial sweeteners and fats that add unnecessary and empty calories,” said Thayer.

“Beyond that, these formulas are often expensive,” she added.

Thayer explained that a balanced diet for a toddler would include fruits, vegetables, healthy fat, protein, and whole grains.

“Children over the age of one with no medical conditions can drink cow’s milk or an unsweetened plant-based milk such as pea milk or almond milk,” she said.

Thayer further assured worried parents that even though their child’s appetite might vary from day to day, there is no need to supplement their child’s diet with a toddler formula.

“If there are concerns for growth and development, you should talk to your child’s healthcare provider to formulate a plan”,” she advised, “but a typical toddler may eat an entire plateful one night and hardly touch their food the second night.

“This is all considered typical and normal,” she concluded.

Takeaway

A new AAP report states that toddler formulas are unnecessary despite deceptive advertising to the contrary.

Additionally, they may be lacking in some nutrients and tend to be full of unhealthy added sugar.

Medical professionals say a balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, healthy fat, protein, and whole grains is best for toddlers.

Cow’s milk or plant milks are safe and healthy drinks for children 12 months and older.

Parents and caregivers should also understand that it is entirely normal for a child’s appetite to vary from day to day.

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