(Reuters) - An 18-month-old boy with Down syndrome has been named by baby food maker Gerber as its "Spokesbaby" for 2018, the company said on Wednesday, an action hailed by advocates for people with the genetic condition.
Lucas Warren of Dalton, Georgia, won Gerber's annual photo contest over 140,000 entries with his "winning smile and joyful expression," Gerber Chief Executive Bill Partyka said in a statement.
“Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby, and this year, Lucas is the perfect fit,” Partyka said.
Gerber has held the photo contest since 2010, although parents have been sending photos of their infants to the company throughout its 90-year history, Partyka said. Gerber was bought in 2007 by Swiss food and beverage company Nestle.
The Warren family will receive $50,000 from Gerber, and Lucas will take "a front seat" on the company's social media channels.
Lucas 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 Centers 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 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's mother, Cortney Warren, said in a statement.
"This is such a proud moment for us as parents knowing that Lucas has a platform to spread joy, not only to those he interacts with every day, but to people all over the country," she said.
Michelle Sie Whitten, president of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, said the staff at the Denver-based nonprofit were ecstatic over the 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 Whitten, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter with Down syndrome.
The foundation advocates for improving the lives of people with Down syndrome through medical research and education.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver)