The Impact of Toddler Milk Claims on Beliefs and Misperceptions: A Randomized Experiment with Parents of Young Children

Ana Paula C. Richter, Emily W. Duffy, Lindsey Smith Taillie, Jennifer L. Harris, Jennifer L. Pomeranz, Marissa G. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Toddler milk (ie, a nutrient-fortified milk-based drink marketed for children aged 12 to 36 months) has been marketed increasingly in the United States with structure/function claims on product packaging that are potentially misleading. Objective: This study examined how structure/function claims impact parents’ beliefs and perceptions about a toddler milk product. Design: This was a 3-arm between-subjects randomized experiment. Participants: A diverse sample of 2,190 US parents of children aged 1 to 5 years were chosen to take an online survey. Intervention: Participants were randomly assigned to view a toddler milk package with either an unrelated claim (“new and improved,” ie, control condition), a “brain development” claim (ie, “brain” claim), or an “immunity-related” claim (ie, “immunity” claim). Main outcome measures: Outcomes included perceptions, intentions, and beliefs about the toddler milk product. Statistical analyses performed: Linear regression for continuous outcomes and logistic regression for dichotomous outcomes. Results: Parents who were exposed to the “brain” claim or the “immunity” claim were more likely to incorrectly believe that the toddler milk was as healthy or healthier than cow's milk compared with those who saw the control claim (89% for brain claim, 87% for immunity claim, and 79% for control; P <.001 for both comparisons). Parents exposed to either the brain or immunity claim had higher intentions to give the toddler milk to their child, higher perceived product healthfulness, and stronger beliefs that pediatricians would recommend the product compared with parents exposed to the control (all, P <.001). Conclusions: These findings suggest that structure/function claims on toddler milk packaging may mislead parents and increase the appeal of toddler milk. Our findings support calls for public health policies to regulate marketing on toddler milk packaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-540.e3
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Health halo
  • Marketing
  • Nutrition
  • Structure/function claims
  • Toddler milk
  • Parents/psychology
  • Choice Behavior
  • United States
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Child, Preschool
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Food Preferences/psychology
  • Food Labeling/methods
  • Animals
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Milk Substitutes/standards
  • Milk/standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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