Chocolate Baby Formula: From Cradle to Grave?

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Mead-Johnson, the company that prides itself on its "decades-long patterning of infant formulas after breast milk," now goes one better. It sells chocolate- and vanilla-flavored formulas for toddlers, fortified with nutrients, omega-3s, and antioxidants.

The company's philosophy: Your toddler won't drink milk? Try chocolate milk!

The unflavored version of the product, from Enfagrow, has been around for a while. In 2005, nutritionists complained about the company's formula because it so evidently competed with milk as a weaning food. Mead-Johnson representatives explained that Enfagrow is not meant as an infant formula, but as a dietary supplement for toddlers aged 12 to 36 months.

Really? Then how come it is labeled "Toddler Formula"? And how come it has a Nutrition Facts label, not a Supplement Facts label?

Here's the list of ingredients for everything present at a level of 2 percent or more:

    • Whole milk
    • Nonfat milk
    • Sugar
    • Cocoa
    • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
    • High oleic sunflower oil
    • Maltodextrin

I bought this product at Babies-R-Us in Manhattan. It's not cheap: $18.99 for 29 ounces. The can is supposed to make 22 servings (one-quarter cup of powder mixed with six ounces of water). At that price, you pay 86 cents for only six ounces of unnecessarily fortified milk plus unnecessary sugar and chocolate. No wonder Jamie Oliver encountered so much grief about trying to get sweetened, flavored milks out of schools.

But really, aren't you worried that your baby might be suffering from a chocolate deficit problem? Don't you love the idea of year-old infants drinking sugar-sweetened chocolate milk? And laced with "omega-3s for brain development, 25 nutrients for healthy growth, and prebiotics to support the immune system"? What's next, genetically modifying moms to produce chocolate breast milk?

For the FDA: this package has front-of-package health claims clearly aimed at babies under the age of two. Uh oh. Shouldn't you be sending out one of those package label warning letters to Mead-Johnson on this one?

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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