Sending Toddlers on the Food Addiction Path

Chocolate-covered Bacon

Just when you thought you’d heard the epitome of absurdity, along comes another crazy notion to top the last one. How about formula for toddlers that is laced with chocolate and vanilla flavorings?

Of course the stuff is marketed as not only benign, but actually healthful, because of its added ingredients. Apparently, it’s supposed to be kind of like training wheels on a bike. The major selling point seems to be that this beverage helps one-and-two-year-olds transition from breast milk or infant formula to the radical idea of drinking regular milk from a cup. Despite the fact that untold millions of children, across the millennia, have somehow managed to transition out of this stage just fine, a concoction with 19 grams of sugar in each seven-ounce serving stands by, ready to help, just in case a child might be unclear on the concept.

Julie Wernau, covering this development for the LA Times, spoke with a professor of nutrition who begs to differ. The author quotes Marion Nestle of New York University, who told her:

You want kids to be interested in eating a very, very wide range of foods because variety helps create nutritional balance. You don’t want them to think that every food needs to be sweet or salty.

Wernau quotes a spokesperson, who says the company’s new strategy “aims to extend the amount of time consumers spend using their products beyond early infancy.” We bet it does! Sales of close to $100 million worth of toddler formula per year apparently are not enough. The corporation hopes parents will swell its coffers even more by swelling their children up with sugary drinks, at a tender and vulnerable age. The kiddie beverage is not simply sweet, it’s flavored with chocolate and vanilla.

Let’s see, what do we know about chocolate? Looking at chocolate through the lens of Linda Spangle‘s classifications, we find that it is very versatile. Spangle talks about “motor” foods that use physical energy because we interact with them beyond mere swallowing. Chewy food really puts up some resistance to the teeth. The carnivore in us likes chewy, but there are plenty of other chewy things, including chocolate in such manifestations as caramels, log-shaped bars, etc.

Another category is crunchy. A food can be crunchy without being chewy, or vice versa. Of course, there is always some overlap. A chocolate bar might be either chewy, or crunchy, or both, or smooth and creamy. Texture can be positive or negative. If you don’t like the texture and you’re hungry, you can just bolt it down.

However, there are the textures you want to linger over and engage with. As kids, we use fingers or utensils to play with our food on the plates. At every age, we play with our food in our mouths, in different ways, depending on its category.

What else do we know about chocolate? Beyond a doubt, it makes people feel better. For about three minutes, according to actual research. For chocolate to provide real relief as a mood elevator, you pretty much have to eat it constantly. Still, it does acts like a drug, one that kids will self-medicate with to the point of addiction.

We know this from the evidence of the kids themselves, as told to Dr. Pretlow and conveyed to us via his presentation “What’s Really Causing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic? What Kids Say.” Slide #95 shows that kids identify their biggest “problem foods” as chocolate, fast food, chips, and candy. When these obese children and teens talk about problem foods, they mean the ones that bring them the most comfort, and that resemble drugs the most. Because of the irresistibility factor, these are the foods they most often compare to substances of abuse, the ones they talk about using the word “addicted.”

And what do we know about vanilla? Well, the Social Issues Research Centre tells us that vanilla fragrance alleviates stress and anxiety. It reduces the startle reflex. Patients undergoing MRI tests are calmed by it. Men especially are drawn to the scent of vanilla as if it were a pheromone. In other words, it can act just like — yes, a drug.

Late-breaking news: the company decided to discontinue the chocolate-flavored formula, although it still offers vanilla. How long will this self-imposed moratorium last? Until public attention is focused on the next nutritional atrocity, no doubt, at which time chocolate-flavored baby dope can be quietly reintroduced, either by this corporation or another one.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Chocolate- and vanilla-flavored formulas for toddlers are criticized,” LA Times, 05/06/10
Source: “Personal Interview With Linda Spangle,” Basil & Spice, 08/16/07
Source: “Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states,”, 05/23/07
Source: “The Smell Report,” Social Issues Research Centre website
Source: “Uniting Against Childhood Obesity” Presentation, Weigh2Rock, 2010
Image by El Biffster, used under its Creative Commons license.
Image (inset) by TwisterMc, used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources