New paper about sugar in infant formula is fake news

Woman with long nose. Liar concept.

Much of what passes for contemporary breastfeeding “research” is meant to demonize formula, not to accurately assess the risks and or tote up the trivial benefits of breastfeeding.

Consider a new paper is published in a journal of dentistry(?!). A cross-country exploratory study to investigate the labelling, energy, carbohydrate and sugar content of formula milk products marketed for infants is a perfect example of fake news.

What’s the difference between real news and fake news?

The authors present NO evidence the sugar content of infant formula dramatically exceeds that of breastmilk.

Real news attempts to inform while fake news attempts to manipulate people by playing on their emotions and often resorts to mistruths, half truths and outright lies to do so.

The lead researcher, graduate student Gemma Bridge, claims on The Conversation Some infant formula milks contain more sugar than soda drinks:

Some formula milks have double the sugar per serving than a glass of soda. That was the key finding of our global investigation into the sugar content of infant formula and follow-on milks…

The “key finding” is a bald faced lie!

Bridge breathlessly writes:

Our findings revealed that over half of the products contained more than 5g of sugar per 100ml.

I should hope so! The average sugar content of breastmilk is 7 gm for 100 ml. Any product that contains substantially less sugar is inadequate and possibly deadly for babies.

In support of their claims, the authors offer a chart in their paper. I’ve taken the liberty of adding the typical sugar content of both breast milk and soda to the author’s chart.


The red line represents the sugar content of soda and the purple bar represents the range of sugar content in breastmilk. Not only is there no evidence that the sugar content of formula dramatically exceeds the sugar content of breastmilk, there is no evidence that ANY formula has double the sugar content of soda.

So how did the authors come up with their “findings”?

1. The authors are not entirely honest about the sugar content of breastmilk.

According to a 2013 paper in the Pediatric Clinics of North America:

The macronutrient composition of human milk varies within mothers and across lactation but is remarkably conserved across populations despite variations in maternal nutritional status… [T]he mean macronutrient composition of mature, term milk is estimated to be approximately 0.9 to 1.2 g/dL for protein, 3.2 to 3.6 g/dL for fat, and 6.7 to 7.8 g/dL for lactose…

So the sugar content of breastmilk varies across mothers and time and ranges from 6.7-7.8 g/dL (100ml).

2. The authors are not honest about the sugar content of soda.

There are 39 gm of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola. That works out to 11 gm/dL. The authors, however, use the misleading comparison of an iteration of Fanta Orange that has been specifically redesigned to remove sugar.

As part of our commitment to reduce the calories in some of our most popular drinks Coca-Cola European Partners changed the recipe for Fanta Orange in 2006 – it now contains 33% less sugar and calories than the previous recipe.

3. The authors are not honest about standards for infant formula.

According to Global Standard for the Composition of Infant Formula:

Data on the composition of human milk of healthy, well-nourished women can provide some guidance for the composition of infant formulae, but gross composi- tional similarity is not an adequate determinant or indicator of the safety and nutritional adequacy of infant formulae.


…[T]he adequacy of infant formula composition should be determined by a comparison of its effects on physiological (e.g. growth patterns), bio- chemical (e.g. plasma markers) and functional (e.g. immune responses) outcomes in infants fed formulae with those found in populations of healthy, exclusively breast-fed infants.

The authors have IGNORED the fact that international experts determine the optimal composition of formula based on outcomes, NOT slavish recapitulation of breastmilk averages.

4. The authors pretend products marketed to preschoolers are “infant” formulas.

They deliberately mislead by including milks that are NOT for infants.

Total carbohydrate (g/100 ml) ranged from 4.7 (ready-to-drink milk formula for 1–3 years, UK) to 13.5 (milk formula powder for 2–3 years, Cambodia)… Across product categories, the highest average total carbohydrate content, in this sample, was in powdered milk formula products aimed at infants aged 2–3 years (8.84 g/100 ml).

NO formulas for infants dramatically exceed the sugar content of breastmilk and NO formulas for infants have double the sugar content of soda.

The paper is just fake news designed to demonize formula … which probably explains why the authors couldn’t get it published anywhere besides a journal of dentistry.