Sales of toddler milk rise in US, despite expert health warnings
Although health and nutrition experts have warned that these products can contain elevated levels of sugar and sodium, the rise in sales is due to an increase of advertising, according to researchers from the University of Connecticut.
Sales of toddler milk have increased 2.6 times in the US, according to a new paper from researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. The rise is said to be due to formula companies quadrupling their advertising of toddler milk products over a 10-year period.
This rapid increase in sales is said to have occurred despite recommendations from health and nutrition experts. Recently, an expert panel representing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association issued guidance recommending that parents do not serve toddler milks, as young children do not need them and the added sugars in these drinks raise concerns.
The researchers explained that these milk-based products are typically sold by infant formula manufacturers and marketed as the “next step” for children 12-36 months old who are too old to drink infant formula. Compared to plain whole milk, which is recommended for young toddlers, toddler milks reportedly contain added sugars, more sodium and less protein.
The study also found that marketing factors, including lower prices, number of displays in stores, and the cumulative impact of TV advertising spending, were significantly associated with volume of products sold in a given month and county in the US, for individual brands and the total category.
“This study shows how well the marketing for toddler milks works,” said Yoon-Young Choi, PhD, MS, the study’s lead author. “Using a combination of advertising, retail displays, and lower prices, formula manufacturers were able to increase sales of their own brands, and at the same time more than double sales for the entire category. This marketing appears to have convinced parents that their children need toddler milks, despite expert advice to the contrary.”
Key findings include:
- From 2006 to 2015, annual volume sales of toddler milks increased from 47 to 121 million ounces
- TV advertising spending for brands also increased from less than $5 million annually in 2006-2008 to more than $20 million annually in 2013-2015
- TV advertising for infant formula brands peaked in 2010 at over $60 million and then declined to approximately $5 million in 2015. Infant formula sales also declined by seven percent during this time
- In 2014 and 2015, formula companies spent approximately twice as much to advertise toddler milks on TV compared to infant formula
- Companies also reduced the average price per ounce of toddler milk while increasing the average price per ounce of infant formulas.
The study authors have called on formula manufacturers to discontinue common misleading marketing practices, such as claims that these products can benefit young children’s nutrition and development. They also called on healthcare and nutrition professionals to help educate parents about toddler milks, including that these products contain added sugars and that plain whole milk is the best option for young toddlers. In addition, they have recommend that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider labelling requirements for toddler milks to address consumer confusion about these products.