by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Infant-formula

Jun 12 2010

Mead-Johnson defends Vanilla Enfagrow

A reporter sent me this message from Christopher Perille, Mead-Johnson’s Vice President – Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, about the company’s Chocolate and Vanilla sweetened Enfagrow toddler formula, advertised with health claims.  It seems only fair to present the company’s defense of its products.  Here’s what he says:

Enfagrow Premium products contain a balanced blend of protein, fat, carbohydrates and other key nutrients, offered in a form designed to be appealing to even the pickiest eaters. These products were introduced in the U.S. to provide additional nutrition as part of a normal healthy diet for toddlers who have been weaned off breast milk or infant formula. While we recognize that each toddler — and his or her eating habits and nutritional needs — are different, they can often have rather narrow palettes and relatively short lists of acceptable foods. My daughter, for one, had an extended period of time during which hot dogs, chicken fingers and french fries were three of her primary food groups. Happily, her tastes eventually expanded, and she is now a healthy and happy sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis — but there was certainly a time when I was concerned whether or not she was getting all the nutrition she needed.

Enfagrow Premium vanilla has been in the marketplace for nearly a year and has elicited numerous positive comments from grateful parents. They have told us that they consider these products an important option for helping to meet their child’s overall nutritional needs, especially those who are picky or erratic eaters, so as to help provide additional assurance that toddlers achieve their recommended nutrient intake.

As we discussed, you were looking at older packaging. The current labeling for Enfagrow Premium vanilla, indicates 17 grams of total sugar, but even that is overstated due to precautionary rounding — the real figure probably falls closer to 15 (14-16). The majority (approximately three-quarters) of the sugar in our product comes from lactose (that is naturally occurring in milk). So while we do add a small amount of sugar (about 4 grams or 1 teaspoon in a 7 fl. oz. serving) to our Enfamil Premium vanilla product to improve the for finicky eaters, the sugar in our flavoring equates to about 15 calories and is less than 2% of a toddler’s daily allowance of calories.

By comparison, the chocolate-flavored version contained less lactose and required more added sugar to overcome the bitterness of cocoa to make it palatable, so the sugar from lactose accounted for just over half the total sugar.

Even with the added 15 calories of sweetness, Enfagrow Premium vanilla has a superior nutritional profile to many other beverages regularly consumed by toddlers – including apple juice, grape juice and similarly flavored dairy drinks.

Enfagrow products also have beneficial ingredients include iron to help support brain growth and antioxidants and other nutrients to help support the immune system. Additionally these products are also a source of Omega-3 DHA and prebiotics, both of which are lacking in milk. Finally, these products exceed whole milk – serving for serving – for important vitamins such as A, B1, B6, C and E.

Enfagrow Premium products – flavored and unflavored – can be part of a balanced diet, which in combination with routine physical activity and an overall healthy lifestyle, can help avoid obesity. In fact, a peer reviewed article published in April 2008 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association – based on a study of over 7,500 children and adolescents from ages 2 to 18 – found that consumption of either flavored or plain milk is associated with a positive influence on nutrient intakes by children and adolescents. Additionally, consumption of flavored milk was not associated with adverse effects on Body Mass Index (BMI), a commonly used indicator of obesity.

Convinced?  I’ve said all I have to say about these products in previous posts.  You decide.

Jun 10 2010

Mead-Johnson withdraws Chocolate toddler formula: Meaningful or just PR?

Mead Johnson announced yesterday that it was withdrawing its Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula–just the Chocolate version–from the market:

Like all our Enfagrow Premium products, the recently introduced chocolate-flavored version has a superior nutritional profile to many other beverages typically consumed by toddlers — including apple juice, grape juice, and similarly flavored dairy drinks. Unfortunately, there has been some misunderstanding and mischaracterization regarding the intended consumer for this product and the proper role it can play in a child’s balanced diet. The resulting debate has distracted attention from the overall benefits of the brand, so we have decided to discontinue production of Enfagrow Premium chocolate toddler drink and phase it out over the coming weeks.

I can’t resist quoting the Chicago Tribune’s explanation of the origin of the debate caused by “misunderstanding and mischaracterization:”

Introduced in February, the chocolate-flavored formula was widely criticized in the blogosphere after Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote that the drink would lead children to crave sugary beverages on her influential blog, www.foodpolitics.com.

Influential?  Maybe, but it seems that my comments on this formula did not go nearly far enough.  Mead-Johnson may be withdrawing the Chocolate version, but it is keeping the Vanilla (as explained by Susan James on ABCNews.com, which also quotes me).

What’s the difference?  The Vanilla has exactly one gram less sugar than the Chocolate, 18 grams per 6-ounce serving, rather than 19 grams.  In contrast, the milk in my refrigerator has 9 grams of sugar (natural, not added) in 6 ounces.

Clearly, Mead-Johnson doesn’t get that it’s the sugars, stupid.

Why do I think this is a PR stunt?  Three reasons:

  • The Vanilla doubles the sugars in regular milk.
  • The Vanilla has the same health claims as the Chocolate: growth, brain development, and immunity.
  • Mead-Johnson’s stock went up after the announcement.

One more time: Where are the FDA and FTC on this product?  This Immunity claim is no different from the one on Kellogg’s Krispies cereals that the FTC went after a couple of days ago.

Tomorrow: Some speculation on why the FDA is reluctant to take on things like this.

Addition, June 11: Here is Melanie Warner’s take on this on her BNet Food Industry blog site (she quotes my post).

Jun 9 2010

Functional ingredients in infant formula: Are these about health or marketing?

If you don’t have a small baby, or your baby is breastfed(and see note at end) you no doubt are missing the furor over “functional” ingredients that companies have been adding to infant formulas.

DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) came first.  As I discuss in my book, What to Eat, infant formula companies could not wait to add it.  They knew they could market it on the basis of preliminary evidence associating DHA with visual and cognitive benefits in young infants.    Although evidence for long term benefits is scanty, the companies also knew that they could charge higher prices formulas containing DHA.

The FDA approved the use of DHA in infant formulas on the grounds that it is safe, but did not require the companies to establish that DHA makes any difference to infant health after the first year.  Because of its marketing advantage, virtually all infant formulas now contain DHA.  Surprise!  They also cost more.

Companies now want to add other ingredients, such as prebiotics, probiotics, lutein, lycopene, and betacarotene, which also can be marketed as healthier and at higher prices.

In response, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), has issued a report on the lack of evidence for the benefits of functional ingredients and the substantial harm they will cause to the economic viability of the WIC program, the USDA’s assistance program for low-income mothers and children.

WIC buys about half the infant formula sold in the United States each year.  WIC is not an entitlement program, meaning that the number of participants is limited by available funding (a GAO report explains how this works).

The CBPP report says:

As pressure mounts to limit federal discretionary spending, it is critical to ensure that WIC not spend funds on foods with functional ingredients that do not deliver clinically significant benefits. WIC spent approximately $850 million on infant formula last year, and a recent USDA study found that more than ten percent of that spending ($91 million annually) is attributable to higher-priced formulas with functional ingredients.  Under current law, the additional cost to WIC of providing foods with these ingredients is likely to grow substantially as such foods proliferate.

As the report explains, formula companies do not have to demonstrate that the added–and more expensive–ingredients do any good:

There is no mechanism within the national WIC program that requires USDA to review the research evidence on the claimed benefits of these functional ingredients or to base decisions about whether to offer foods containing such ingredients on their benefits and the specific needs of WIC participants. Currently, instead, infant formula manufacturers themselves decide whether WIC offers infant formulas with new functional ingredients, while state WIC programs decide whether WIC should offer other foods with such ingredients.

As I keep saying, functional foods (and ingredients) are about marketing, not health.  If companies are going to add functional ingredients–and charge higher prices–they need to have some convincing scientific evidence to back up their claims.

Postscript: Laurie True of the California WIC program writes:

Congressman George Miller, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, is writing the bill that reauthorizes the WIC Program this week. He should include a provision requiring independent scientific review of the efficacy of these “functional ingredients” before USDA allows them in WIC foods and infant formula.

Note:  Lori Dorfman sends a Berkeley Media Studies Group issue paper on how to advocate for hospitals and workplaces to make it easier for moms to breastfeed.

Apr 26 2010

Chocolate toddler formula?

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 this product, Enfagrow, has been around for a while.  In 2005, nutritionists complained about this 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.  It is meant 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% 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 6 ounces 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”?

Next: let’s genetically modify moms to produce chocolate breast milk!

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?

Addition, May 1: in response to interest in what other products are made by Mead-Johnson, or its parent, the drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb, I’ve linked their names to product pages.

Addition, May 6: Julie Wernau of the Chicago Tribune did a front page (business section) story on this and is following up on it in her blog.

Feb 12 2009

Melamine in Infant Formula: clinical consequences

On February 4, the New England Journal of Medicine published four studies of the effects of melamine-adulterated infant formula on the infants unlucky enough to be fed it. Reuters has an article about the studies.

Dec 17 2008

Bookkeeping: End-of-year columns

I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks.  Enjoy!

Dec 2 2008

Latest melamine counts from China: yikes!

The New York Times says the Chinese Ministry of Health has issued a new count of Chinese infants ill from melamine-contaminated formula.  Would you believe 294,000?  The count includes 6 deaths, along with 861 still hospitalized with kidney problems.

One result: Chinese milk exports have dropped by 92%.

Nov 29 2008

FDA OK’s 1 ppm melamine in infant formula

Friday is a great day for releasing news that might be controversial.  The FDA announced a 1 ppm standard for safe levels of melamine in infant formula – provided cyanuric acid is not also present.  By this standard, the amount in the adulterated Chinese infant formula – 2,000 ppm or more – would be deemed demonstrably toxic.  The amount in the contaminated U.S. formula – 0.1 to 0.2 ppm – would be considered safe.  Of course zero would be better, but that seems hard to achieve in today’s chemically contaminated environment.  A 1 ppm standard is tough enough to give the FDA plenty of leeway in banning unsafe products.

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