Icon WebMD Expert Blogs

Child Health 411

with Ari Brown, MD

This blog has been retired.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Does the World Really Need Chocolate Toddler Formula?

happy toddler with milk

Photo: iStockphoto / Thinkstock

The latest controversy in the world of baby products is that infant formula mega-giant, Mead-Johnson, pulled their chocolate-flavored toddler formula last week. Outraged nutritionists and pediatric professionals were very critical of the product. So, what’s all the fuss about?

To begin with, “toddler” formula itself is controversial.

In the first year of life, infants need the ingredients uniquely found in breast milk or it’s artificial substitute — infant formula. Around 4-6 months of life, babies start to eat solid food which provides complementary nutrition to breast milk/formula. And by one year of age, children are eating the majority of their nutrition instead of drinking it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers from age 1-2 switch from infant formula over to whole or 2% milk after their first birthdays and drink just two cups a day of it. Hence, there is already an issue with “toddler” formula in the marketplace.

Why do parents buy this stuff when their child’s doctor doesn’t recommend it? Let’s face it -  it’s a parent’s job to worry. And when a typical toddler eats one good meal a day or decides he is hungry once every three days, it’s only natural that a parent might be concerned that her child is malnourished… which leads to the purchase of a nutritional supplement like toddler formula.

Boy Toddler Eating

Photo: Digital Vision / Thinkstock

But here is the truth: virtually all toddlers eat what they need to. It is human nature to respond to thirst and hunger drives. In relative terms, toddlers don’t grow nearly as fast as infants do and so they don’t need to be eating non-stop. Parents become concerned because they aren’t prepared for that change.

In my experience, nutritional supplements only perpetuate the problem. Toddlers who drink toddler formula or who continue to drink excessive volumes of whole milk continue to eat poorly because they are drinking their calories. If drinks are a beverage and not the meal, toddlers are more interested in the food being served – which is the point, right?

So when I saw the uproar about chocolate-flavored toddler formula in the news, I felt the real issue was being lost in the telling of this cautionary tale.

If we all ate like toddlers, we wouldn’t need South Beach or Jenny Craig! I don’t recommend any type of nutritional supplements (chocolate-flavored, vanilla-flavored or otherwise) unless your child is truly failing to thrive and his or her doctor recommends it.

Are you concerned about your toddler’s nutrition? Share your questions and comments about this blog post with the Parenting Community.

Posted by: Ari Brown, MD at 3:28 pm