From the Journals

Baby beverage 101: New recommendations on what young children should drink


Introduce whole milk before lowfat or nonfat milk, avoid fruit juice or limit it to just a few sips a day, and stay away from “toddler milk” and chocolate milk entirely. A coalition of health and nutrition organizations offered all this and more in a new set of sometimes surprising recommendations about beverage consumption in children from birth to age 5 years.

Toddler drinking milk LP7/E+/Getty Images

The recommendations “are based on the best available evidence, combined with sound expert judgment, and provide consistent messages that can be used by a variety of stakeholders to improve the beverage intake patterns of young children,” the report authors wrote. “It is imperative to capitalize on early childhood as a critical window of opportunity during which dietary patterns are both impressionable and capable of setting the stage for lifelong eating behaviors.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association released their recommendations titled “Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood” in a report published Sept. 18.

The organizations convened expert panels and analyzed research to develop consensus beverage recommendations. Here are some highlights from the report, the writing of which was led by Megan Lott, MPH, RDN, of Healthy Eating Research and Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

  • Breast milk or formula. This is what babies should be drinking for the first year of life.
  • Plain drinking water. None is needed in the first 6 months of life. Introduce 0.5-1.0 cups/day over the next 6 months in cups and during meals when solid food is introduced. Then 1-4 cups/day are recommended from age 1-3 years, then 1.5-5 cups by age 4-5 years.
  • Plain, pasteurized milk. None during the first year, then 2-3 cups a day of whole milk at age 12-24 months; if weight gain is excessive or family history is positive for obesity, dyslipidemia, or other cardiovascular disease, the pediatrician may recommend skim or lowfat milk at 12-24 months. Then provide up to 2 cups (age 2-3 years) then 2.5 cups (age 4-5 years) per day of skim /fat-free milk or low fat/1% milk
  • 100% juice. None until 12 months. Then it can be provided, although whole fruit is preferred. No more than 0.5 cup per day until age 4-5 years, when no more than 0.5-0.75 cup per day is recommended.
  • Plant-based milks and non-dairy beverages. None from age 0-1 year. And at ages 1-5 years, they only should be consumed when medically indicated, such as when a child has an allergy or per a preferred diet such as a vegan one. The panel didn’t recommend them as full replacements for dairy milk from age 12-24 months, and it noted that “consumption of these beverages as a full replacement for dairy milk should be undertaken in consultation with a health care provider so that adequate intake of key nutrients commonly obtained from dairy milk can be considered in dietary planning.”
  • Other beverages. Flavored milk (like chocolate milk), “toddler milk,” sugar-sweetened drinks (including soft drinks, flavored water, and various fruit drinks), low-calorie sweetened drinks, and caffeinated drinks are not recommended at any age from 0-5 years. Toddler milk products “offer no unique nutritional value beyond what a nutritionally adequate diet provides and may contribute added sugars to the diet and undermine sustained breastfeeding,” the report authors said.

Dr. Lillian Beard

Lillian M. Beard, MD, said in an interview, “Pediatricians and other child health providers have major roles of influence in parents’ choices of foods and beverages for their infants and young children.

“Following these first-ever consensus recommendations on healthy drinks will alter family grocery shopping patterns, and not only improve the overall health of children under age 5 years, but also may improve the health outcomes of everyone in the household.” Dr. Beard is a clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, Washington. She was not one of the report authors and was asked to comment on the report.

The report was supported by the Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

SOURCE: Lott M et al. Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood: Recommendations from Key National Health and Nutrition Organizations. Technical Scientific Report. (Durham, NC: Healthy Eating Research, 2019).

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