Fortified milks aimed at 1-3 year olds are no better nutritionally than regular foods, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded in a long-awaited opinion.
In its 103-page opinion , EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) acknowledged that toddler intakes of nutrients like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), iron, vitamin D and iodine were a concern in some European countries but it found toddler or growing up milks were not the way to bridge such deficiencies.
“No unique role of young-child formulae with respect to the provision of critical nutrients in the diet of infants and young children living in Europe can be identified, so that they cannot be considered as a necessity to satisfy the nutritional requirements of young children when compared with other foods that may be included in the normal diet of young children (such as breast milk, infant formulae, follow-on formulae and cow’s milk),” the NDA said.
Toddler milks exist in a regulatory void between regular foods and infant formulas (0-6 months) and follow-on milks (6-12 months) that are regulated under the 2006 EU Directive on infant formulae and follow-on formulae.
Recognising this situation the European Commission asked EFSA for its opinion on products, "promoted as being particularly suitable for young children and, as such, under the current rules, may be considered as foodstuffs for particular nutritional uses."
The current EFSA opinion will be followed by another next year that will detail what EFSA’s experts consider to be, “the essential composition of formulae.”
EFSA noted that, “In recent years, increasing numbers of milk-based drinks and similar products intended for young children – labelled as ‘growing-up milk’ or ‘toddlers’ milk’ or similar – have been marketed in [EU] member states.”
“Scientists and stakeholders have differing views as to whether these products are needed to satisfy the nutritional requirements of young children.”
One such view was expressed in 2011 by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) which found toddler’s milks were no better nutritionally than regular cow’s milk for over-1s.
The World Health Organization (WHO) this year arrived at a similar conclusion, calling them, "unnecessary and inappropriate".
UK pro-breast milk feeding group, Baby Milk Action’s Patti Rundall welcomed the EFSA opinion.
“We're very pleased with this conclusion and relieved because we were concerned,” she said.
“I hope it will have a significant impact on the deliberations at the EU expert meeting next week and even more importantly at the CODEX meeting on the 4th of November.”
Manufacturer representatives did not comment by the time of publication.
Broader infant nutrition requirements
As part of the work, EFSA was also asked to provide guidance on dietary requirements for infants and toddlers.
It found European infants and young children, “have high intakes of energy, protein, salt and potassium but low intakes of dietary fibre. Intakes of protein, salt, potassium and dietary fibre are not at levels that are cause for concern, but the generally high energy intakes may contribute to unfavourable increases in body weight.”
Intakes of calcium, magnesium and vitamin C were thought to be adequate but omega-3s, iron, vitamin D and iodine intakes in some European countries were deficient to some degree.
While acknowledging that, “Fortified formulae, including young-child formula, are one way to increase such intakes” the NDA concluded, “…there are other efficient alternatives, such as fortified cow’s milk, fortified cereals and cereal-based foods, supplements or the early introduction of meat and fish into complementary feeding and the continued regular consumption of these foods.”
It added:“The selection of the appropriate form and vehicle through which these nutrients are provided in the diet will depend on national dietary habits, health authorities, the regulatory context and caregivers’ preference. However, it is recommended that guidelines for vitamin D supplementation of infants and children established at national level be followed.”
Toddler milk manufacturers include Nestlé, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Danone-Nutricia.
See below for a table excerpt in the NDA opinion outlining nutritional differences between toddler milks and other products.