NEW YORK • An 18-month-old boy with Down syndrome has been named by American baby food-maker Gerber as its "spokesbaby" for this year, the company said last week, an action hailed by advocates for people with the genetic condition.
Lucas Warren of Dalton, Georgia, won Gerber's annual photo contest - which drew more than 140,000 entries - with his "winning smile and joyful expression", the company's chief executive Bill Partyka said.
"Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber's longstanding heritage of recognising that every baby is a Gerber baby and, this year, Lucas is the perfect fit," he added.
The company has held the photo contest since 2010, although parents have been sending photographs of their infants to Gerber throughout its 90-year history, he said.
Gerber was bought in 2007 by Swiss food and beverage company Nestle.
The Warren family will receive US$50,000 (S$67,000) from Gerber and Lucas will take "a front seat" on the company's social media channels.
He was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the extra copy of chromosome 21 changes how a baby's body and brain develop, which can present mental and physical challenges.
It said that about one in 700 babies born in the United States each year has Down syndrome.
"We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that, with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world," Lucas' mother Cortney Warren said.
She had admitted on The Today Show that her "biggest concern always with Lucas was how people were going to treat him".
"I was always afraid he would be bullied or people would be scared of him," she added.
Ms Michelle Sie Whitten, president of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, said the staff at the Denver-based non-profit entity were ecstatic over the Gerber announcement.
"By choosing Lucas, I believe the message is that babies with Down syndrome are no different from typical babies and can be seen as adorably perfect," said Ms Whitten, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter with Down syndrome.
The foundation advocates improving the lives of people with the condition through medical research and education.
Meanwhile, Lucas is taking to the new fame with little fuss or fear.
His mum told Good Housekeeping magazine that "he's very bubbly. He loves people".
"I've never seen anybody come in contact with Lucas and not smile," she added.