Powdered milk for toddlers 'can lead to bad diet'
Formula isn't a meal replacement, warn experts
Paediatric dieticians have warned parents that giving formula milk to toddlers and young children is unnecessary – and advise that they can contribute to food issues and even lead to a poorer diet.
Experts in nutrition say these powdered "growing up" milks – branded as being for two- and three-year-olds – suppress children's appetite for real food, prevent development of tastes, contribute to oral motor skill delays and affect overall intake of vitamins and minerals.
Fiona Ward, dietetics manager at Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin said milk for toddlers inhibits their appetites and distracts parents from managing to achieve a healthy diet for their little ones.
Ms Ward said: "The consumption of milk fortified with additional vitamins and minerals can actually inhibit appetite for food and result in a poorer intake of appropriate food groups and nutrients.
"Families are spending money on milk for children well past the age of one year at the expense of food that contains, iron, protein, vitamins and minerals, all of which are essential for growth.
"They distract consumers from the benefits of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
"The focus of consuming one food item at the expense of a variety, is not beneficial for development of oral motor skills, can prevent positive eating behaviour and delay enjoyment and exposure to different tastes and textures," she said.
Paediatric dietitian Ruth Charles said no supplement was ever as good as real, fresh, healthy food – and warned that it could delay the development of a child's tastes.
Ms Charles – who runs NutriKids clinic in Dublin to help parents of children with food issues – said: "After the age of one year, children should be off all formula and be on a mixed family diet. This growing up formula should never be seen as a meal replacement. They sell them to parents as adding vitamins and minerals, but nothing is as good as the real thing.
"For example, they talk about the iron content, but iron sulphide in formula is not as easily absorbed as iron in red meat. You get a couple of ounces of good steak and there is far more protein and iron in the natural form.
"All these things are better from real foods than any other supplement.
"The manufacturers are not making a false statement. But they are misleading."
She said continuation of formula into a toddler's diet can interfere with developmental milestones around speech, chewing and swallowing.
"Parents find themselves continuing using the product long after they need to out of habit. They are buying the age 1+ and then there's a 2+ and then it goes up to three.
"You have to stop and think: 'Why am I buying this?' It's just a habit, and it can become hard to break."
The Department of Health recommend the children be moved on to cow's milk after the age of one. Public health nurses in the HSE, who monitor children's development from birth, advise parents to drop the formula after the 12-month mark.
There isn't an issue with follow-on milks aimed at infants aged six to 12 months, when it is necessary for babies who are not being breast fed; the problem lies with the "toddler milks" for children over one year, at which point the Department of Health recommends they are ready for cow's milk.
A spokeswoman for the three most popular formula milk brands in Ireland said growing up milk and toddler milk are designed to "complement" a balanced diet for toddlers up to the age of three years.
Speaking on behalf of SMA, Aptamil and Cow and Gate – who all have a toddler range for two to three year olds – Claire McGee, of the Irish Dairy Industries Association (IDIA), said their products ensure healthy growth and development of small children.
"Nutrition is crucial in determining a child's healthy development, but this is not easy to ensure at this stage, as dietary patterns change rapidly from nine months to three years while the toddler transitions to the family diet.
"According to the National Nutrition Pre-School survey of 2012, Irish toddlers experience a number of nutritional issues including low vitamin D, iron and vitamin A intakes.
"Young child formulas are a safe, suitable way to help ensure that young children receive these nutrients. They are nutritionally tailored with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D and iron... to help ensure the healthy growth and development of toddlers and young children.
"Growing up and toddler milks can help resolve these nutritional inequalities, while providing parents with a safe way to ensure their child gets the nutrients they need during this important developmental phase."
The IDIA represents the infant and young child nutrition manufacturers in Ireland.
The industry manufactures infant and young child nutrition products for birth to three years.