Toddlers need a balanced and varied diet to provide the necessary nutrients for growth and development. In recent years, “toddler milks”, or fortified milks marketed for children over 1 year, have gained huge popularity around the world. These fortified milks are marketed as providing the nutrients required for growth and development. However, they are usually higher in sugar than breastmilk, regular cow’s or goat’s milk and unsweetened milk alternatives.
First Steps Nutrition Trust, an independent public health nutrition charity in the UK, have issued a statement entitled “Sugars in fortified milks marketed for children over 1 year”. Following an extensive review of these products they have found:
Fortified toddler/growing up milks provide unnecessary added sugars to the diets of young children, and in most cases, consuming 400ml per day will mean that these milks provide almost all, or more than, the total free sugars recommended in the diet per day. The majority of these milks are also flavoured, and may encourage young children to prefer sweet tastes and challenge their acceptance of unprocessed and minimally processed nutritious local foods recommended.
The following recommendations have been made in the statement:
- All international and local health agencies should make clear recommendations about how families can ensure good nutrition for their children using local diverse foods and without the need for processed fortified milk products.
- National infant feeding guidelines should include the statement ‘Fortified milks are not necessary in the diets of healthy children over 1 year of age.’
- International, regional and national agencies who regulate on food and drink composition should introduce nutritional standards for fortified milks for children aged 1-3 years.
- Manufacturers should reduce the level of added sugars in fortified milks to match those in whole animal milk and remove flavourings and colourings.
- All fortified milks should clearly show the amount of added/free sugar and other nutrients they contain per 100ml of milk as consumed, and clearly label whether they are suitable for vegetarians or for those who choose halal products.
- Fortified milks for young children should not share any branding with infant formula designed for children aged under 1 year, or carry any idealised text or images (for example, pictures of babies, children, toys or animals). In addition, national regulations should enforce the need for clear differences in the packaging design of fortified milks for older children, and ensure clear warning labels remind parents of the importance of breastfeeding and that these milks are not suitable for infants.
- National regulators should not permit advertising and marketing of fortified milks for children over the age of 1 year because this will undermine public health strategies for that age group.
The take-home message for parents is that fortified milks are not necessary for toddlers. Toddlers require a balanced and varied diet incorporating the 4 main food groups (grains and cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy or alternatives, and meat, fish, eggs or alternatives), with regular cow’s or goat’s milk, or unsweetened milk substitute, and water as the main drinks.
The full statement from First Steps Nutrition Trust can be read here.
Information on healthy eating for children from the British Dietetic Association can be found here.