The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recently published a clinical report expressing its concerns about the growing number of toddler formulas, sometimes called toddler drinks or weaning formulas, marketed for children between six to 36 months of age. These products are nutritionally incomplete and offer no benefit over cow's milk, which is often less expensive, the committee said.

“Products advertised as toddler formulas or follow-up formulas are misleadingly promoted as an important part of a healthy child's diet or the equivalent of infant formula,” George Fuchs, a co-lead author of the paper and a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, advised.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the content of infant formulas, toddler drinks are not regulated by the FDA.

Toddler drinks are not a substitute for a balanced diet, and they are nutritionally inferior to infant formula for children less than one year old, he added.

Parents may have gotten used to feeding their child infant formula, Steven Abrams, a co-lead author on the report, told TheDoctor. As the baby gets close to a year old, some families may be hesitant about switching them to cow's milk. If the mother is looking to move away from breastfeeding, toddler drinks have been marketed as the ideal alternative.

“I think it's natural for families to wonder if toddler drinks may be uniquely beneficial compared to plain old cow's milk,” Abrams, a professor of pediatrics at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin, explained, but caregivers should be aware that while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the content of infant formulas very tightly, toddler drinks are not regulated by the FDA.

Toddler drinks are not a substitute for a balanced diet.

As a result, some toddler drinks may be higher in sugar than others, and some may be higher in protein.

Also concerning is the fact that some families may use toddler drinks for infants instead of infant formula, which the AAP does not recommend. In addition, “Parents may be spending extra money to buy a product they don't need, as opposed to a diet consisting of age-appropriate solid foods,” said Abrams.

One exception is that children with conditions such as chronic gastrointestinal or metabolic disorders, or food allergies, may need medical or therapeutic formulas for toddlers, but these prescribed formulas are different from toddler drinks.

The AAP recommends:

  • Breast milk or infant formula should make up the liquid part of the diets of children younger than one year.
  • For toddlers (children one year or older), caregivers and parents should provide a varied diet of fortified foods. Toddler drinks can be a part of a well-balanced diet, but are not more nutritious than a diet that includes human or cow's milk.
  • The marketing of toddler drinks should be clearly distinguished from infant formula in terms of logos, packaging, product names and promotional materials. They should not be displayed along with infant formulas on store shelves.
  • Pediatricians should complete a thorough nutritional assessment for each child, and give parents recommendations about appropriate solid foods and vitamin intake as needed.

The report was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in October and is published in the journal Pediatrics.