These new sweetened beverages are flying off store shelves, much to doctors' chagrin – and to children's detriment.
The medical community is worried about the rising popularity of toddler milks. A new study has found that, over a ten-year period between 2006 and 2015, the companies that make these products have quadrupled the amount of money spent on advertising, and sales have increased 2.6 times since the start of the study period.
The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that a combination of TV advertising, store displays, and lower prices (compared to the cost of infant formula, which went up over the same time period) contributed to this growth. It is a serious concern because toddler milks are not healthy for young children and are certainly not endorsed by healthcare and nutrition professionals.The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity calls toddler milks a "relatively new product category" that is marketed as the "next step" for children between age 1 and 3 years, who have been weaned off infant formula. "Compared to plain whole milk, which is recommended for young toddlers, toddler milks contain added sugars, more sodium, and less protein."
Toddler milks are often displayed in the same areas of a grocery store as infant formula, with similar-looking labels. This makes it difficult for some parents to tell the difference, and there is a risk of babies being given the cheaper, nutritionally-deficient formulas that are geared toward older children.
Dr. Jennifer Harris, a senior marketing advisor at UConn Rudd Center, says the industry's growth is tied to breastfeeding rates, which have been going up in the United States, leaving formula manufacturers trying to extend their product lines to make up for lost market share. But what they're doing is misleading and potentially harmful:
"They should not take advantage of parents’ natural concerns about their toddlers’ nutrition and development to sell a product their children don’t need and that could make it more difficult for their children to develop healthy eating habits."
The study follows the publication of a report last September that denounced the numerous sugary drinks in a typical American child's diet. It stated that breast milk, infant formula, plain milk, and water are the only appropriate beverages for young children, and that anything else should be avoided as an added source of sugar. If juice is served occasionally, it should always be diluted.