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The Atlantic Story on Supplements in Infant Formula

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There’s an interesting story in The Atlantic about supplements that companies are adding to infant formula.  The author, Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University (and the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics) writes:

If you don’t have a small baby, or if your baby is breastfed (and see note at the end of this post), 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 for 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 (PDF) 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.



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