Baby Formula With Banned Sugar Sold In Georgia

August 1st, 2008

CBS46.com
(click here for their full story, including video footage)

ATLANTA — A new organic baby formula that is sold in the United States has an ingredient that has been banned in Europe. CBS 46 investigated how the formula is still allowed on our shelves.

New mother Renee Ross reached for Similac’s Organic Infant Formula for her son Mekhi’s first meals. In fact, the newborn gift bag she was given when she checked out of the hospital after giving birth to Mekhi had a can of the formula.

“It’s organic, so I figured it should be OK,” she said.

The controversy is over the type of sugar used in the formula: sucrose, or cane sugar. Some pediatricians warn that sucrose can harm babies. Sucrose-sweetened baby formulas are banned in Europe. Experts are concerned about the proliferation of childhood obesity rates, among other health concerns.

“Sucrose tends to be five times sweeter than lactose and too much of any sugar can cause problems, but especially sucrose. There can be problems with dental damage, problems with tooth decay, excessive weight gain, and sucrose tends to make people overeat,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician at Atlanta’s Children’s Medical Group.

CBS 46 spoke to Similac’s chief medical officer, Dr. Russ Merritt, on the phone. “There’s just no evidence this small amount of sucrose in an infant formula has an adverse effect on health, development or subsequent obesity,” Merritt said.

CBS 46 asked Merritt about their choice for sucrose as a sweetener. “In this instance, we found that the formula behaved better in how it mixes up quickly and dissolves for mothers,” Merritt said.

The sweetener of choice for baby formulas is lactose, which is found naturally in mothers’ milk. But Merritt said that organic lactose is hard to come by, and they wanted an organic formula. ‘”ecause of the demand for organic milk products there is very little lactose available in the market place,” Merritt said.

While the Food and Drug Administration does regulate infant formula, the agency does not determine which sugars can be used by a manufacturer. So CBS 46 called health experts to ask for their thoughts on the use of sucrose as a sweetener in baby formula. The opinions were not unanimous.

A member of the American Academy of Pediatrics that sits on the National Committee on Nutrition said he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with sucrose in formula. He said that when it comes to sweeteners in baby formulas, all sugars are basically created equal.

A pediatric gastroenterologist at Emory University who performs research on the effects of sugar doesn’t think the use of sucrose is a good idea. She says there are too many unknowns.

Local food label expert Kerry McLeod, who looks at the ingredients in food products to determine their healthiness, also weighed in on the matter. “That’s insane,” she said. “You do not want a brand new baby getting the taste of a refined sugar like that. I would absolutely not recommend this to any new mom.”

Shu acknowledged that there’s a lot of conflicting information out there, so it’s best to always talk to your baby’s pediatrician first.  “Anytime there is a large group of people concerned, I think it warrants consideration, and further discussion and research,” Shu said.

Ross said regardless, she will not look at things the same way.  “Moving forward, it’s just going to be about making better choices,” she said.

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