They’re Making Diet Baby Formula Now

Tank is concerned
Tank says “What the…” (He’s just a puppy, he doesn’t know the F-word yet.)

Abbott Laboratories, makers of Similac baby formula, recently announced that they are reducing the calories in their commonly used formulas by one calorie per ounce.  The reason they are doing it shows us just how out of control, and how far away from any concept of science, the obesity epipanic has become.

Similac claims that the new formulation will make formula more like breast milk, based on the idea that breastmilk has a protective effect against lifelong “obesity.”

There is tons of controversy around the idea that breastmilk has an effect on longterm body size, but even if you believe that it does, the idea that the thing that makes the difference is one calorie per ounce is a large leap over a deep chasm.  In fact, research suggests that, much like everyone who ate Snackwell’s cookies in the 90’s, babies just eat more formula when there are less calories in it.  This is significant for families on a budget –  unless Abbott Labs is going to reduce the cost along with the calories, buying enough diet formula to make up for the extra calories could cost families around $150 a year.  So maybe this is just a profit driver for Abbot labs and they actually aren’t a “lab” full of idiots who don’t know the first adage of research – correlation never ever implies causation.

A lot of the interventions experiments being tried on babies and children are based on simple observational correlation by people who don’t seem to have done even a basic literature review.  People say “babies who are breastfed are less likely to be “obese”  or “babies who gain less weight at certain times tend to weight less as adults.” so people go about creating interventions based on that information.

This is deeply problematic – correlation means that two things happen at the same time enough of the time to be statistically interesting, but we still don’t know the nature of their relationship – does A cause B?  Does B cause A?  Does C cause A and B?  Is it all just a coincidence?  If you don’t know causation then creating interventions can be tricky.

Here’s a made up example:  Often in August in the United States the rates of ice cream eaten and the rates of murder both go up.  So ice cream eating and murder are correlated.  So I, Polly Public Health Person, decide it’s obvious that ice cream eating leads to murder, and so I cry and wail and wring my hands and shout “won’t somebody think of the children” until I convince stores to pull ice cream off the shelves.  I am triumphant, for behold I have created an intervention! And yet my joy is less than full, because the rate of murders skyrockets.  What the hell?  It turns out that the problem is actually heat – when the heat increases people get irritable and they either eat some ice cream or they commit murder.  By removing ice cream from the shelves, I created a situation in which people who would have eaten ice cream didn’t have access to it, so they ran around murdering people. Oops, sorry y’all, that’s my bad.  Sincerely, Polly

That’s why having understanding of causation, which we can perhaps achieve through research, is important before we go and implement interventions like turning that Mommy and Me class into a Baby Weight Watchers Meeting. In a real life example that I first heard about in my first research class, thousands of kids died early deaths from cancer because of interventions based on correlation, this is serious stuff.

Also, it’s possible that the correlations are coincidences, here are some examples from Tyler Vigen’s great piece “Spurious Correlations”

I was recently part of a panel discussion about childhood “obesity” at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.  The other people on the panel were all involved in interventions for childhood obesity and I made the point that they didn’t have any research to back up those recommendations.  One of the panelists, a pediatrician who now specializes in research, said “Well it’s not like you can try to make kids fat, that’s unethical”  but we’re absolutely fine with trying to make them thin and see no ethical issues there.

One of my statistics teachers used to tell us that for every correlation you find, there is a causal explanation that makes total sense, and is totally wrong.  I’ll bet she’ll be explaining this to classes someday using this baby formula example.

Last Day for Your Flying Rhino’s T-shirt (and last day that this will be on the blog!)

Wednesday is the last day to get your order in for the inaugural Flying Rhinos t-shirt.  Regardless of whether or not you get a t-shirt, you can participate in the Flying Rhinos group at

flying rhinosWanna Be a Flying Rhino?

I am so very, very excited about this!  The Flying Rhinos are a way for people of all sizes who want to carve out space and obtain visibility and respect for fat people in the fitness world to be public about our involvement, show our pride and solidarity, and recognize each other when we’re out and about.

What Do the Rhinos do?

We live our mission out loud, wearing our official Flying Rhinos shirts in everything from our own movement activities and classes, to organized races, sports, and events.  We have our own group on the Fit Fatties Forum to discuss our training, get support, swap stories and race reports, talk about events we’re in and plan meet-ups offline to do events together and/or just hang out.

Our shirts help us show our pride and recognize each other. If you want to order a shirt either for you individually, or for your team (whether it’s for an organized sport, a 5k, a charity event or whatever) just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org with the size(s) and I’ll get you the details.  We are taking requests for the current order until Wednesday, June 11th, then we’ll get the best deal we can for the number of shirts we have and split the cost evenly among the people making the order (no upcharges for larger shirts and nobody is making any money off the deal except whoever we hire to make the shirts!)

Who Can be a Rhino?

Everyone, of every size, who participates in movement at any level and is committed to body positivity is welcome to become a member of the group, and wear the official shirt.  Wear it to yoga, wear it to roll your wheelchair in a 5k, wear it at the pool, wear it to your Krav Maga class, wear it to Zumba, wear it going around your block or in a marathon, put together a softball team or a team for a charity race and we’ll get you some shirts. Roll with the Rhinos for a fun, supportive, body positive, rocking good time.

How did this come about?

It started as a discussion on Ragen’s Facebook page about ridiculous names that haters call us – landwhale, hamplanet, and that day’s offering – land blimp.  Seriously, land blimp.  People started coming up with their own ideas and Nora suggested “Flying Rhinos”.  We had been thinking about starting a group like this and the name struck us as perfect.  Nora agreed to let us use the name, Sara H. designed the amazing logo and The Flying Rhinos said “Hello World!” on May 30, 2014.

Of course this is totally optional – while fat people absolutely deserve to be able to participate in whatever movement we want without shame, stigma, bullying, oppression – and deserve to have spaces to talk about that – participating in fitness doesn’t make a fat person better or worse than anyone else – it’s not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or a reason to treat someone differently.  The good fatty bad fatty dichotomy needs to die.

Like the blog?  Consider becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible ( THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

Are you looking for a way to do some fun movement this summer (and get prizes for it?)  Consider a Fit Fatty Virtual Summer Vacation!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for detail

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post

38 thoughts on “They’re Making Diet Baby Formula Now

  1. Makes me wonder if they really think it’s a “better formula,” or whether it’s just a truly lame marketing gimmick.

  2. That’s just crazy I was born 6 lbs 10 oz breast fed baby , my little sister was 6lb 12 oz at birth not a breat fed baby
    I am the one who is outside society’s norms for weigh 5’9″ 320 lbs
    Little sister is 5’5″ 120
    We ate the same growing up she was always small I was large . Still consume about the same calories a day as each other , get about the same exercise . God didn’t design all of us to be the same size . I kinda like being zaftig lol

  3. I work in a pathology lab and I can say that commercial lab staff do not make decisions. We just do as we’re told and bitch about it behind management’s back.

  4. My sister was a bouncing big baby. After all, our Norwegian mother was 5’11” tall & very large, & our father was 6’4″ & slender. The Norwegian was dominant in my sister, so she was just a big healthy baby!! So they put her on her first diet at 6 months of age. That was only the beginning. She was told that there was something wrong with her being so large her whole life, while I was this thin-as-a-rail flat-as-a-board younger sister who could eat anything I wanted. The thing was that I thought my sister was beautiful & voluptuous, much like the blond bombshells of the day–she was a natural platinum blond, also. I was also put on a diet at the age of 16 because I grew hips. I wasn’t any fatter or heavier, I just had this nice big butt.

    I saw the psychological damage that my sister lives with today at the age of 72, & now I’m fatter than her, so she loves to make derogatory comments about my being fat. She realized early on that I don’t think of a fat body being a detrimental thing, but that didn’t stop her because it made her feel better about herself to put me down. I allowed it because it didn’t really hurt or offend me.

    The obesity epipanic is so bad now that a friend of mine decided one day to say derogatory things about disabled fat people, you know those ones who are “morbidly obese”? This was on my FB wall. I told her that I didn’t wish to have those kinds of put-downs on my wall & asked if she realized that I was considered morbidly obese by the medical community. She was seriously shocked. Turns out she didn’t know what the term meant. And I didn’t fit her idea of the morbidly obese person, therefore I wasn’t one. Education is so very important now more than ever, because there is so much information & misinformation out there about so many subjects that people, even highly intelligent ones, just sort of give up & parrot what they’ve read or seen.

    1. Just think how you could blow your friend’s mind by informing her that nearly the entire NBA is either obese or morbidly obese.

      Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp is overweight. Officially.

      1. . . . championship women’s rowing teams, beat cops who can keep up with or outrun their male co-workers, Alaskan women who bulldog cattle/haul in fishing nets big enough to cover a house and full of fish/do log-rolling as their job not a stunt (pick two of three), Olympic weightlifters, women who mush dogs hundreds of miles and finish in the front of the pack . . .

  5. All I could think was…thank the Lord I’m done birthin’ babies. I would HATE to have that to deal with, either being pushed by a doctor or a Mommy Group. Or just plain advertising (“Studies show that…”, “OF COURSE you want the best for your baby…”). In the mind-bending chaos of new motherhood, where EVERYTHING is important, how the hell do you strain out what counts and what doesn’t?

  6. This is ridiculous. My understanding is that the reason breast milk is considered “lower calorie” than formula is because breast feeding actually has two phases. Initially the baby gets thinner, more watery milk, and then after suckling for awhile they get denser milk with more calories. So one theory for why breast-feeding is associated with lower obesity rates is that when breast-fed babies are thirsty, rather than hungry, they will only suckle for a little bit and get the liquid they need to quench their thirst, as opposed to immediately getting calorie-dense formula.

    Now, I’m not sure how much of a role this actually plays in determining a person’s ultimate body size. I suspect there are overlapping socioeconomic and genetic factors that affect both mothers’ ability and/or choice to breastfeed and their children’s eventual weight. (And from my own personal “anecdata,” myself and one of my younger brothers were breastfed for most of our first years, while my second younger brother was mainly formula-fed, because my mom had breast cancer when she had him, but he’s thinner than either of us.) Still, I think this does illustrate that this is too complex an issue to be addressed by giving babies some sort of kiddie version of SlimFast (and once you look critically at the actual info behind the obesity epipanic, it’s tough to argue that it even needs to be “addressed” at all).

    I have a fun idea. How about the institutions behind this redirect their energies to actually making it possible and realistic for any woman who chooses to breastfeed to do so, including working moms of all socioeconomic statuses? That sounds way more helpful and valuable than fucking Jenny Craig formula, or whatever the hell they’re going to call this.

  7. Omg! This needs to end since babies need calories and fats to grow! This just needs to end. I know a few years ago AHS said that fat and calorie content wasn’t allowed to be labeled on baby food because people were putting their babies on diets. That has now stopped.

    It makes me wonder how many of these poor kids will have eating disorders in life.

    1. I was wondering how many kids will have development issues because of this. One of my friends makes sure her kid gets plenty of fat because it is supposed to be good for brain development.

      1. Omega fatty acids and fat are needed for brain and eye development. You are right though. How many are going to have development issues. I should have thought of that as well.

    2. Is that AHS Alberta Health Services? That’s scary business. I’ve never had kids so I don’t know that realm that well.

      1. Yes Alberta Health Services. I know the program has stopped because they are more going on about allergies to milk, wheat, eggs, and nuts right now. So in a way they are doing something about putting babies on diets but it is vague.

        1. I’m in Calgary. I had no idea that the AHS was going on about this. I tried to get my doc reported for prescribing anorexia/dieting when I’m already suffering, but they said if the doc is not at a hospital then they can’t do anything, so he’s allowed to continue.

          And yes, I’ve noticed that too. When I got a flu shot in 2012, while waiting I noticed pamphlets covering the “Top 9 Allergies”. I think that’s part of the “we have to reduce our access to these foods” craze because “wheat belly/fat”.

          1. That is odd because a doctor I went to who wasn’t at a hospital got into a lot of trouble for giving me medication I didn’t need/ prescribing dieting. I guess it really depends who you talk to.

            I do know they started it because too many babies were being hospitalized for malnutrition. It was CTV Calgary that reported it. If I remember correctly it was in northern Alberta they saw the trend starting.

            The fact all these allergies are showing up is a sign of something and I don’t think it is a good thing.

  8. I think there is at least a soupcon of greed here (understatement alert!). It reminds me of when the tobacco companies started making lite cigarettes in response to pressure about a real fear (as opposed to a spurious fear in this case). Along with slightly less tar and nicotine, they made these “healthy” cigarettes with faster burning paper so you ended up smoking twice as much. Win-win situation, except that both wins go to the tobacco company. This is pretty darned evil!

  9. I remember when a pudgy baby was a healthy baby! We wanted a baby to be round and well-fed. After the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the US used many societal-level interventions to make sure good, nutritious, energy-filled foods were widely and cheaply available to all children… to avoid starvation and malnourishment. McDonald’s was a Godsend. …. now they want skinny babies?!? What happens in the next food shortage when we’ve forgotten how to feed ourselves? So soon we forget our history lessons.

  10. Both my babes were beanpoles at birth and still are. They weren’t breastfed. I used to get browbeaten on how little weight they gained (my son was 6.2 lbs when he was born, my daughter a full pound heavier and 2 inches shorter). Both my kids went on solids at 4 months because I couldn’t keep them full on formula alone. They now eat like locusts devouring a crop, particularly when they’re in a growth spurt because first they bulk up, then they stretch up.

    Babies can be any size and be healthy. This seems like one more way to spur on the Mommy Wars and turn a buck.

    Go home, Science. You’re drunk.

    1. I think you’re spot on with the Mommy Wars thing.There is so much hype in this culture about pregnancy, childbirth and baby-rearing. And most of it comes down to: You’re doing it wrong. I’ve never even had kids but I’m still aware of it enough that it annoys the hell out of me.
      The thing that’s kind of sadly hilarious about it, is that we now have the sanitary conditions and updated medical knowledge and technology to ensure the safety and the health of most mothers and their offspring at birth. Many years ago it was quite common for the mother and/or the baby to die. Now, it’s really rare, but we learn to treat pregnant women as though they are ill (they are not, they are pregnant!) and to regard birth with a lot of anxiety, there is so much focus on what *could* go wrong. Even when the chances are are so low.
      And of course before that, there’s all the fuss about what a woman consumes while pregnant, because everything the woman eats, drinks or otherwise ingests, the baby supposedly does too. Now obviously this caution makes sense to an extent, but some people manage to bring it to really wild extremes. And the rules are always changing. The don’t drink alcohol or do drugs is probably the only constant.
      Then of course the woman has the baby and everyone has an opinion about breast milk vs. formula (most try to push breast milk, even though some women are not able to feed their child that way, and even though breast milk is only marginally better than formula anyway. People act like formula is toxic.) Also, opinions about whether the baby sleeps in your bed or in a crib next to you or in their own room. Everyone has an opinion on this, and whatever theirs happens to be, it’s the right one. Whoever doesn’t follow it is a monster who’s going to either kill their baby or cause them long-lasting emotional damage. And I’m sure it doesn’t end there.
      Another interesting trend I’ve noticed lately is hyper-concern regarding a baby possibly inheriting a medical issue that the parent has, or even one that just runs in the family. Many people seem to feel it’s selfish to have children if there’s the possibility they could be genetically predisposed to certain illnesses… which to me makes no frigging sense, because unless you come from a family of robots or genetically superior aliens, that’s how it is for everyone.
      So yeah, even though this diet formula situation is obviously tied into phobia, hatred, and ignorance when it comes to fat people, it’s also probably the latest trend in “let’s shame mothers into feeling inadequate unless they do this very particular and potentially unhealthy thing for their baby”.

  11. I just checked, and formula seems to be around 20 calories per ounce, so knocking off 1 calorie per ounce is a big enough change to possibly be a bad idea.

  12. I am glad my baby is almost grown out of the formula stage, because there is no way, I’d ever put my son on that. Of course, It would be pushed on me, at least I assume, because I am “Morbidly Obese”, and so of course that means my son will be fat, though his father is tall and skinny as a rail. This is just stupid, and this is one mommy that will not be buying that crap. I Really don’t understand this obsession with people bodies in general, and why everyone else thinks it’s their business to decide whats best for us. I have been trying to lose weight since I was a tween, and all I’ve been able to do was get fatter. The emotional and mental damage that I’ve just now, at age 29, started to get past, is horrible, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Why don’t people understand that people’s mental and emotional health is just as important, if not more so in some cases, as physical health? BECAUSE I was constantly told I was ugly, hideous, a monster, even by family, because I was fat, only made me eat, because ” They are right, so I might as well be that way.” *shakes my head* Can’t they see what they are doing? In trying to make people lose weight, they are only going to increase it, and the amount of people who take their lives because they are “monsters.” /end rant.

  13. My first instinct was to check and make sure this wasn’t a satirical article from the Onion some mainstream news station obliviously picked up and reported as true.

    No such luck. This is totally real. The US government’s WIC page has a FAQ up about it. Similac really is making *diet baby formula.*

    Diet. Baby. Formula.

    Oh, and not calling it diet formula? Doesn’t change that Similac is asking its customers to *calorie-restrict their cradle-bound babies to make them lose weight they haven’t gained yet.* It’s diet formula.

  14. This disturbs me. My oldest was premature, he never latched for breast feeding, I pumped as long as I could, but eventually he ended up on formula. He had trouble gaining weight as a baby (still has trouble as a toddler) this is dangerous and beyond unnecessary. Babies need to gain weight! Babies need calories!

    1. I agree. BABIES NEED CALORIES. Babies need to lay on reserves of fat — those rolls around wrists and elbows and thighs and knees — that they can then draw on when they start expending energy in crawling, walking, and growth spurts, not to mention brain development!

      I’m sure there are naturally thin babies who are healthy, just as there are naturally thin people of every age who are healthy, but the key word there is *naturally*. If an individual baby’s metabolism makes him/her slender *when s/he’s eating enough calories*, that’s fine — but generally speaking babies tend to be chubby and roly-poly and limiting their calorie intake is just insane. As inkspots87 says, BABIES NEED TO GAIN WEIGHT. That’s what they do. They grow. Except when they don’t get enough calories … and then they’re stunted, physically and/or cognitively.

      I’ve got to stop; the more I think about this the more upset I get.

      1. I’m a mommy of one of those naturally thin babies. She’s healthy, strong and active, but went for 50% at birth to 10% at 6 months for weight. She’s breastfed, but now she’s eating solids like a trucker and still only slowly gaining. So I’d never come near this product and other parents should be very wary. It is likely babies will simply eat more formula, but this also affects the amount of iron and protein to fat to carb ratio they’re getting, which should be within a certain range. I hope this will be a short lived product.

  15. For as long as I can remember, and that’s a good few decades, infant formula manufacturers in the developed world have been perpetually tinkering with their products so that they can market them as being more like human breast milk. Formula milks have been safe and nutritious for a long time and it’s heartbreaking to think that the budget for making these minor modifications could have been spent on humanitarian work in places where babies are starving to death, either in donations of formula milk or in ensuring three square meals a day for nursing women so that they could continue to breast feed. For the real scandal isn’t that formula milk isn’t quite the same as breast milk, it’s that so many babies worldwide – and not only in famine zones – aren’t getting ENOUGH calories to support their growth and development or even to keep them alive.

    Is this formula actually going to be marketed as a lower calorie option for feeding babies? That would be SO cynical. And there are so many conflicts of interest going on that I can’t even be confident that such a bizarre concept wouldn’t make it on to the shelves.

    FWIW, my sister and I were both bottle-fed with the much less sophisticated formula available in the 1960s and given solids far earlier than is currently recommended, and fed a diet that majored on the pointy bit of the food pyramid, and neither of us has ever ailed a thing or piled on weight in adulthood.

    1. One of my friends who did part of her MSc in Africa (primates) was talking about how African women are discouraged from breastfeeding, and given inadequate amounts of formula. This is all based on “science” that says it knows better than mother nature. The mothers water down the formula to make it last, but usually before the next doling-out of formula, most of the babies have died of starvation.

      I don’t know if the formula arriving late is part of the “cure the fatties” dogma, but it makes them distrust whites more.

      During the Holocaust, food would be sent into the ghettos after it had gone bad, and there wasn’t enough of it for people to eat. Moldy bread was common.

  16. Reminds me of the “light” vodka. Voli is one brand and Skinygirl is another. Has fewer calories than regular vodka. Guess what, it’s also lower in alcohol! You could dilute it yourself with water at no extra charge. But this way the companies get to make more money, selling you vodka at full price that is 1/3 water.

  17. They’re really trying to get rid of scientifically supported body diversity. I’m sick of them experimenting on our children.

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