Toddlers don't need "toddler milks." In fact, these products are less nutritious and more expensive than regular milk, and can even be dangerous if mistakenly given to babies. If your toddler is ready, at least 12 months old, it's healthier and cheaper to just give him plain whole milk.
That's the consensus from 30 leading child health and nutrition experts who have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better regulate these products and prevent companies from misleading consumers.
Manufacturers have spent millions promoting "toddler milks," also sold as "toddler formula" or "toddler drinks." That's led some parents and caregivers to believe that toddler milk is good for toddlers or even necessary for their development.
Not so, the experts say. Most toddler milks are made with ingredients that are not particularly healthy: nonfat dried milk, added sugars (such as corn syrup solids), and vegetable oil. They also contain more sodium, more sugar, and less protein than plain milk, and can cost up to four times as much, according to researchers.
"Sugar-sweetened toddler milks with labels that imply these products are necessary to meet the nutritional needs of young children is the perfect recipe to increase formula company profits – but the wrong recipe for children's nutrition and long-term health," Jennifer Harris, one of the experts and a senior research advisor at the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity said in a statement. "The FDA must establish regulations to ensure that companies can no longer mislead consumers to believe that toddler milks are beneficial for young children."
Companies have also come up with a new product called "transition formula" purportedly for babies and toddlers up to 2 years old. But these products are just infant formula in a different package, experts say. Children over 1 year old don't need infant formula, they say. And never give "toddler milk" to children under 12 months.
The 30 child nutrition experts petitioning the FDA want the agency to establish a common name for toddler milk-type drinks and require companies to include disclaimers on the packaging. The experts, who represent academic, public health, and advocacy organizations, are also asking the FDA to stop companies from labeling infant formula as "transition formula" and prevent them from putting the words "formula" or "infant formula" on drinks advertised as suitable for children over 12 months.