Oct. 27, 2003 -- Even before they learn to walk, many American children are well on their way to developing bad eating habits that are startling similar to those that plague adults: too much fat, sugar, and salt, and too little fruits and vegetables.
A new study shows that infants and toddlers are already getting too many calories and eating inappropriate foods such as pizza, soda, and French fries before their second birthday.
In fact, the survey of more than 3,000 infants and toddlers from 4 to 24 months old found that French fries are the most commonly eaten vegetable for toddlers aged 15 to 24 months, and soda is being served to infants as young as 7 months old.
Researchers say a 1- to 2-year-old infant needs about 950 calories a day, but the survey found the average calorie intake of toddlers in this age group was 1,220. That's an average of 270 calories more than they need.
An overview of the survey findings was presented this week at the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo in San Antonio, Texas. The complete results are scheduled for publication in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The survey was conducted in 2002 by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. and funded by Gerber.
Feeding Recommendations Ignored
Researchers found many of the current recommendations for feeding infants and toddlers issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are currently being ignored.
- 29% of infants ate solid foods before the recommended age range of 4 to 6 months
- 17% drank juices before the recommended 6 months
- 20% drank cow's milk (rather than formula or breast milk) before the recommended 12 months
The AAP recommends that cow's milk be introduced to infants after 12 months and that low-fat dairy products be introduced after two years because fat is needed for healthy development early on. But the survey found that 35% of toddlers 19 to 24 months old were already drinking skim or reduced-fat milk.
In addition, researchers also found other potentially dangerous eating habits that could increase the risk of obesity and other health problems among toddlers and infants:
- Nearly 25% of 19- to 24-month-old babies are not eating a single fruit or vegetable in a day.
- Half of 7 to 8 month olds eat desserts or salty snacks or drink sweetened beverages.
- A quarter of toddlers 19 to 24 months old eat hot dogs, bacon, or sausage once a day, and more than one in 10 eat pizza on a daily basis.
Picky Eating Habits Start Early
The survey also showed that picky eating habits develop early, and nearly 50% of children were considered picky eaters by 24 months of age.
But parents and caregivers may be giving up to soon when it comes to introducing new foods into baby's diet.
Researchers found that children were only offered a new food up to five times at most before the parent or caregiver decided that the child disliked it. But studies show eight to 15 exposures are needed to gain acceptance of new foods.