Toddler Milk Formulas Are Unhealthy and Unregulated, Pediatricians Say


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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that milk formulas for older babies are being marketed as healthy drinks but are unnecessary, unhealthy, and lacking 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.

The clinical report, presented at the 2023 AAP Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C., states that toddler formulas are unnecessary and potentially lacking in certain vital nutrients such as:

  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • magnesium
  • 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.

Dr. Steven A. Abrams, a co-author of the report, stated that it is “understandable” that families and caregivers of toddlers might be confused by the claims surrounding toddler formulas.

But there are no federal regulations governing what goes into these drinks, the AAP report explains, which is why they are not recommended by pediatricians in most instances.

This means manufacturers often make health-related claims on their packaging even though they may not have undergone a scientific review process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The AAP report further details suggestions for how the issue 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.

Dr. Leah M. Alexander, a pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best, said one of the biggest problems with toddler formulas is that they contain excessive amounts of sugar to make them more palatable.

“When you look at the product labels, one of the first ingredients is some form of sugar, sometimes two or three types [of sugar],” she said. These may include:

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 age 2.

Ensuring that little ones are also brushing their teeth can 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 noted 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.

Lauren Thayer, a registered nurse with experience in pediatrics, said toddler formulas often contain additives with health claims such as a boost in brain growth or immunity.

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

“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 toddlers’ nutritional needs would include:

“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.

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 completely healthy and typical for a child’s appetite to vary daily.


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