Toddler milks are marketed to parents of one-to-three-year-old children as the next step after infant formula. Whether they are called transitional formulas, follow-up formulas or growing-up milk, there are at least three good reasons to avoid them — they are unnecessary, expensive and may be unhealthy, a study shows.

Toddler formulas are relatively new to the market. They are milk-based products promoted and made by infant formula manufacturers that are supposed to supply nutrients that may be missing from a child’s diet when they stop using formula. Parents of picky eaters are often panicked into buying them as a way of making sure their children get the nutrition they need.

Formula makers consider toddler formulas a marketing opportunity to make up for revenue lost to an increase in breastfeeding.

Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut used market research information to compare the total sales of powdered infant formulas and toddler formulas from 2006 to 2015. They looked at the amount of money spent on advertising and studied the relationship between all forms of marketing of the products and the amount of toddler milks purchased.

From 2006 to 2015, sales of toddler milks more than doubled, from 47 million ounces per year to 121 million ounces per year. Formula companies quadrupled the money spent on advertising toddler milks over the ten-year period, and spent twice as much to advertise toddler milks as they did to advertise infant formulas.

“This study shows how well the marketing for toddler milks works,” said the study's lead author, Yoon-Young Choi, in a statement. “Using a combination of advertising, retail displays, and lower prices, formula manufacturers were able to increase sales of their own toddler milk brands, and at the same time more than double sales for the entire toddler milk category. This marketing appears to have convinced parents that their children need toddler milks, despite expert advice to the contrary.”

Experts representing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association recently issued guidance discouraging parents from using toddler milks because they are not necessary for young children, and the added sugars they contain are concerning.

The study authors offer several recommendations: (1) Formula makers should stop their misleading claims that children need toddler milks for proper nutrition and development; (2) Healthcare and nutrition professionals need to educate parents to the fact that plain, whole milk is the best option for toddlers once they quit using infant formula, and advise them that toddler milks contain added sugars; (3) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should consider labeling requirements for toddler milks to eliminate parental confusion about these products.

Breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are on the rise, so the demand for infant formula is decreasing, explained Jennifer L. Harris, a study author. Apparently, formula makers consider toddler formulas a marketing opportunity to make up for lost revenue, but they are taking advantage of the natural concerns of parents about their child’s nutrition and development, selling them a product they don’t need and one that could undermine efforts to teach children healthy eating habits.

The paper is published in Public Health Nutrition.