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Could Baby Formula Be Improved?

Ever since Martha Chowning brought Maddie home from the hospital 10 months ago she's been adding a little something extra to her infant formula--a fatty acid called DHA that is naturally found in breast milk.

It's been shown to aid brain development and yet US companies don't add it to formula. "It was recommended to me that I do add it and I do--every day," says Chowning.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supporting Chowning's decision. They issued a statement just last week saying US formula manufacturers have FDA permission to add DHA to their products.

Formula in 60 other countries already contains DHA, and several US makers have asked to add it too. The FDA decision clears the way for them to do that.

Some doctors think it's a move that's long overdue. In fact, pediatrician Dr. Larry Palevsky calls current formulas junk food for babies.

"We may be endangering children because we may . . . be keeping them nutritionally deficient," says Palevsky. "There's a vital role that DHA plays in the growth of the brain."

Most doctors believe formula is safe and nutritious, but the news about DHA may be disconcerting to parents like Cindy Weil who have assumed that US baby formula is as good as it can be.

"I trust that the FDA has done its homework and is forcing formula companies to provide us the best formula they can," says Weil.

There is clearly more homework to do. A study commissioned by the FDA 5 years ago urged changes in formula recipes, and those changes are still under review.

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