For new parents, deciding what to feed an infant or toddler can be daunting. Now, one report suggests that marketing might be making that choice even tougher, as the majority of ad money goes toward promoting unhealthy baby foods.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity recently studied how the multi-millions spent marketing infant and toddler food is allocated. In 2015 alone, companies spent approximately $77 million marketing baby food, infant formula, and food and beverages for toddlers in the United States, CBS News reports. Of that significant chunk of change, nearly 60 percent was used to push products that go against the nutritional advice of health experts.
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According to lead researcher Jennifer Harris, these spending patterns can negatively influence the judgement of parents who are already overwhelmed with baby food options. "It's easy to make parents anxious about finicky eating and send them the message that their child might need these products," Harris says.
Goods such as low-nutrient snack foods, high-calorie liquid supplements like PediaSure, and sugary beverages like sweetened "toddler milk," are often advertised as healthy additions to an infant or toddler's diet. However, according to dietitian and nutritionist Angela Lemond, "most children do not need them," and can be harmed by these products if consumed in excess.
The researchers also found that $16 million worth of marketing by PediaSure and two milk brands was directed specifically at Spanish-language stations. In fact, Harris notes that "Only products with added sugar were being advertised on Spanish-language TV," which is "concerning because Hispanic children have higher rates of overweight and obesity."
Though Lemond notes that products like PediaSure and sweetened toddler milk might be useful dietary supplements in certain medical cases, all parents should speak to a pediatrician about adjustments and additions to their child's diet before using these products.
"Do not get advice from food marketing, get it from your health-care provider," Lemond adds, noting that the best nutritional route for all ages is "whole foods with minimal processing," and breast milk for infants, which is the "gold standard" in liquid nutrition. And for those who give their children free reign over the TV remote, beware of what's being shown between episodes, as junk food ads have been proven to have the potential to alter children's brains.