Report: Most Advertised Baby Food Not Nutritious

New report finds issues with nutrition-related messaging.


Report: Most Advertised Baby Food Not Nutritious

Babies are a costly bunch. Cute, but costly. A middle-income family spends more than $16,000 on their child in the first year of life, according to the USDA. And while housing is the largest expenditure, followed by child care, newly sleep-deprived parents also must budget $1,500 for baby food in the first year.

Most if not all baby food brands advertise that their various products provide health benefits for young children. But a new report found that the majority of baby food products parents see advertised on TV, online, and in print are actually at odds with health expert recommendations on what to feed infants and toddlers.

Despite the widespread nutrition-related messaging, the report by the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, titled Baby Food FACTS, found that nearly 60 percent of ad dollars spent in 2015 promoted formulas, supplements, and foods that contain added sugars, are high in calories, or advertise benefits that are not supported by scientific evidence.

The report looked into baby food companies that spent $100,000 or more on advertising in 2015. Three companies — Nestle, Abbott and Mead Johnson Nutrition — accounted for 99 percent of all ad spending ($77 million).

Snack food labels touted the most nutrition-related messages among all food types — despite only five percent qualifying as nutritious. And more than 40 percent of toddler foods advertised ingredients that barely made it into the foods.

Here are some products that were included in the report.

Abbott’s Similac infant formula claims on product packaging that the formula intended for children up to 12 months old features “DHA for brain,” “lutein for eyes,” and “Vitamin E for development.” But the report noted that breast milk is the optimal choice for infants under six months old.

Nestle touts that its Nido toddler milk contains “13 vitamins and minerals to help support your child’s healthy growth and development.” But the product also contains 15 grams of sugar per serving and added sweeteners.

Nestle’s Gerber Graduates cereal bars include high fructose corn syrup, an added sweetener.

At nearly $21 million, no baby food company poured more ad dollars in a single product than Abbott did in Pediasure, which packs 240 calories per serving and as much sugar as an 8-ounce sports drink (18 grams).

Despite its name, Plum Organics Mighty 4 pumpkin, pomegranate, quinoa and Greek yogurt contains only “small quantities” of two star ingredients, pomegranate and quinoa, the report found. In reality, the main ingredients include apple and banana purees that are not recommended for children over 12 months old.


The authors of the report called on the FDA, FTC, and U.S. Congress to rein in the marketing of baby food products inconsistent with the recommendations of leading health experts such as the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Find more of our coverage on baby food here.

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