The new study was conducted by the research team at the NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
‘Toddler formulas ‘not’ recommended by health experts, as all the health claims are misleading.’
The research team investigated as to how U.S. policies and regulations can support clear and truthful labeling of toddler drinks, despite the fact that international and U.S. health experts and pediatricians do not recommend them. The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.
To provide healthy toddler diets, the team also suggested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to provide guidance or propose regulations to ensure appropriate labeling of toddler drinks.
Labeling of Toddler Drinks
The research team started this study based on previous research, which demonstrated manufacturers' marketing practices could undermine the diet of toddlers, said Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, assistant professor of public health policy and management at NYU College of Global Public Health and the study's lead author.
Toddler drinks are marketed for young children who age between 9 months and 3 years. There are two types of products such as transition formulas for infants and toddlers who are in the age group of 9 to 24 months and toddler milk for children who are between 12 and 36 months.
Most of the toddler drinks contain powdered milk, corn syrup or other added sweeteners, vegetable oil, more sodium and less protein when compared to cow's milk.
The marketing and labeling of toddler drinks emphasize that these drinks are beneficial for the child's nutrition and growth. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend toddlers from one year onward need to drink cow's milk in combination with eating healthy foods.
The World Health Organization regards toddler drinks as "unnecessary" and "unsuitable."
Also, the American Academy of Family Physicians says that toddler drinks hold no value than cow's milk and a nutritious diet.
Labels can be Misleading
In a previous study, traditional marketing and labeling practices for infant formula can mislead parents and make them believe that these products would provide benefits over breastfeeding.
In recent years, companies have increased their advertising on toddler drinks. However, public health experts have begun to raise concerns about questionable claims and other labeling practices related to toddlers' growth and mental performance and position them as a solution for picky eating.
In this study, toddler drink labeling practices were evaluated and policy strategies to support transparent and truthful labeling were assessed, enabling caregivers to make the right decision on feeding their children.
When conducting legal research on U.S. food label laws and regulations, distinct policies for infant formulas were found by the research team, but nothing specific to toddler drinks.
Later, the research team visited stores to collect and evaluate toddler drink packages and even looking up their nutrition labels and claims. They found that toddler drinks go by a variety of names like toddler formula, toddler drink, toddler milk, or milk drink. These names could confuse the consumers.
The team found that all toddler drink labels had at least one health or nutrition claim, and most have also made multiple claims. Some companies have either a scientific or an expert's support.
For example, one brand said that it is the #1 brand recommended by pediatricians and also has a footnote for toddlers under 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics represents pediatricians, and they do not support toddler drinks.
Most Labels make Claims related to Nutrition and Health
"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. 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," said Pomeranz.
The toddler drink labels were compared with the same brand's infant formula labels. The team found that most of the toddler drink labels used similar colors, branding, logos, and graphics. The similarities between these products can increase confusion among consumers, about its appropriateness of serving toddler drinks and also the difference between infant formulas and toddler drinks.
The research team recommends the FDA to provide guidance or regulations on toddler drink labeling like to consult a physician before use, use of appropriate health and nutrition claims, to differentiate between infant formula, transition formula, and toddler milk. They also recommend the manufacturers to change their labeling practices to support informed consumer decision-making.
For example, manufacturers need to agree and use one name for similar products and discontinue practices that are not under FDA regulations or recommendations, particularly the health claims and image on bottles are questionable.
"Toddler drinks are unnecessary and may undermine a nutritious diet, yet manufacturers have expanded their marketing of these products. 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 feed their children nutritiously," said Pomeranz.
- Pomeranz JL, Romo Palafox MJ, and Harris JL. Toddler drinks, formulas, and milks: Labeling practices and policy implications. Preventive Medicine (2018) DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.01.009