The Food Standards Agency in the EU reports that a balanced diet can provide all the nutrients required by children one to three years.
Pediatricians have long demanded a regulatory framework that imposes order on the burgeoning market for specific food products for children aged one to three years, as there is for babies up to 12 months. The EU started to work on it and requested the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) that, first, it investigates the possible nutritional deficiencies of European children of these ages to put them in relation with the reinforcements that offers growth milks, a product that has become popular in recent years. The first conclusion derived from a study by nutrition scientist panel with data from all member countries is that these preparations do not add value to a balanced diet.
The dairy sector growth preparation is very heterogeneous. Some are fortified with minerals and vitamins, iron and other omega 3 acids while others have carbs. Which of these nutrients should really reinforce those ages and to what extent? Is it desirable in all cases or only in situations of deficiency? ‘Since there are no general guidelines which must contain a growth milk and in which cases should be prescribed, doctors recommend or not the individual criteria,’ said Jose Manuel Moreno, coordinator of the nutrition committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP).
The EFSA study states that ‘daily calorie intake of protein, salt, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins is right’, but warns that dietary fiber intake is low. Deficiencies detected only in general, but at levels that differ among countries, DHA (omega-3 fatty acid), iron, vitamin D and iodine. ‘The administration of milk preparations may be a way to increase the intake of these nutrients. But there are other effective alternatives such as fortified cow’s milk, fortified cereals and regular consumption of meat and fish to achieve the contribution that children need at that age,’ said EFSA.
‘For the first time, a rigorous scientific report makes clear the specific nutritional needs of children have one to three years in Europe. It is a good first step, we can help in recommending or reinforcements in the diet, taking into account the particularities of each case, ‘celebrates Moreno. ‘The document is an excellent base to start legislating. If EU finally has decided to define what it should contain in preparation of growth, should consider just the shortcomings that have been identified, ‘continued the expert. EFSA plans to issue a second report next year to complete the information asked Brussels to start legislating.
The industry frowns to regulate this market. ‘It is negative to homogenize the market and it would be more difficult to differentiate from other brands, but the fact legislate implies a recognition of its value. And that’s positive, ‘says Federico Lara, head of R&D group Lactalis Puleva. ‘Precisely because gaps were detected affirm that they are necessary. It is true they would not have fitted with a balanced diet, but the truth is that a good portion of children do not. For example, it is shown that fatty fish consumption is low at these ages, which explains the lack of DHA, ‘says Lara.
Javier Dorcas, Chief Scientific Child Nutrition Nestle, provides similar arguments. ‘It is easier to take a balanced diet today. Evidenced by the fact that 12% of children between six months and three years are anemic’, he argues. ‘And this does not fix cow’s milk, which has many nutritional properties but provides little iron. For that specific issue, preparations are good.’
Good in some cases, but not essential in infant feeding in general, according to EFSA. ‘These products grew significantly until the crisis came because they are bad, they just are not necessary in all cases, especially the parents buying children between 12 and 18 months to make them less abrupt transition to cow’s milk. But because they are more expensive, it has now stopped growing. Many already do not buy it if the doctor does not recommend it, and this does not usually do if I see a need, ‘says Moreno.
The average price of a gallon of whole milk is 0.70 euros, while the growth of the prepared powder is 2.2 euros, according to a recent study by the OCU about these products offered the same conclusion that EFSA.
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