The use of milk-based “growing-up” formula does not bring additional value to a balanced diet in meeting the nutritional requirements of young children in the European Union, EFSA has said. EFSA’s scientific experts could identify “no unique role” for young-child formula (commonly called “growing-up formula”) in the diet of young children (those aged 1-3), concluding that it is no more effective in providing nutrients than other foods that constitute the normal diet of young children. The findings are contained in EFSA’s Scientific Opinion on nutrient requirements and dietary intakes of infants and young children in the European Union, requested by the European Commission.
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 Member States. Scientists and stakeholders have differing views as to whether these products are needed to satisfy the nutritional requirements of young children. Unlike infant and follow-on formulae, young child formulae are not subject to specific EU rules, and the Commission is considering whether to recommend special provisions for these products in upcoming legislation.
EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) was also asked to provide advice on how dietary requirements of infants and young children evolve during the first three years of life and established the levels of nutrients which it considers adequate for the majority of healthy, normal-weight infants and young children.
For infants up to the age of six months, the experts based their calculations for most nutrients on the nutrient content of breast milk from healthy, well-nourished, mothers who do not use dietary supplements. For infants aged 6-12 months and young children aged one to three, they used dietary references values set by the NDA Panel in recent years – such as those for energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates – and reviewed reference values set by the Scientific Committee on Food in 1993 in the light of more recent recommendations given by other scientific or authoritative bodies. The Panel then compared Average Requirements or Adequate Intakes with the habitual nutrient intakes of infants and young children across Europe.
The Panel found that 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. They also concluded that intakes of a range of micronutrients, including calcium, magnesium and vitamin C, were likely to be high enough to reach dietary requirements. However, consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin D and iodine (in some European countries) among infants and young children is low.
The Panel notes that particular attention should be paid to ensure the appropriate supply of Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin D and iodine to infants and young children who either have or are at risk of having inadequate status in these nutrients. Fortified formulae, including young-child formula, are one way to increase such intakes. However, 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.
EFSA will follow up the opinion with a second opinion – to be published in 2014 – that will provide advice to the Commission on the essential composition of formulae.
The following definitions were used for this opinion.
Infants: children under the age of 12 months.
Young children: aged between one and three years.
Infant formula: food intended for use by infants during the first months of life and satisfying by itself the nutritional requirements of such infants until the introduction of appropriate complementary feeding.
Follow-on formula: food intended for infants when appropriate complementary feeding is introduced and which constitutes the principal liquid element in a progressively diversified diet of such infants.