Dietary habits start in infancy, according to experts, and a recent study from the University of Buffalo indicates the diets of children between 6 months a 1 year of age can be predicted based on their mothers racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds.
Xiaozhong Wen, MBBS, PhD, lead author of the study, notes this information is important for pediatricians and other caregivers because the first year of life is a critical period for the development of taste preferences and the establishment of eating habits.
The University of Buffalo noted key findings of the study, which included:
- Infants whose dietary patterns were high in sugar, fat and protein; dairy foods; or regular cereals were associated with mothers whose highest education level was some or all of high school.
- Mothers with some or all of high school as their education level generally had household incomes of under $25,000 per year and were non-Hispanic African-Americans.
- Unhealthy food items commonly consumed by children in lower-education households included candy, ice cream, sweet drinks, and French fries.
Babies whose diets included more breastfeeding and solid foods that adhere to infant guidelines from international and pediatric organizations were associated with household incomes of generally above $60,000 per year.
- Mothers in families above the $60,000 income mark typically had some level of college education.
Babies who consumed larger amounts of formula indicating little or no breastfeeding were associated with being born through emergency caesarean section.
- Infants who consumed higher levels of formula were associated with receiving assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women and Infant Children (WIC).
- Infants whose diets consisted mainly of foods with high fat, sugar and protein were associated with a slower gain in length-for-age scores from 6 to 12 months.
“There is substantial research to suggest that if you consistently offer foods with a particular taste to infants, they will show a preference for these foods later in life, said Wen. So if you tend to offer infants healthy foods, even those with a somewhat bitter taste, such as pureed vegetables, they will develop a liking for them. But if you always offer sweet or fatty foods, infants will develop a stronger preference for them or even an addiction to them.
For infants, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests the following dietary guidelines:
- Breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 46 months after birth. Try to maintain breastfeeding for 12 months. Transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 46 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
- Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 46 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
- Don’t overfeed infants and young children they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
- Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they’re initially refused. Don’t introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.
What’s more, the overall eating habits of a family are just as important as what a child is being fed during infancy. Family habits ultimately become a child’s habits as he or she becomes older.
This is the recommended family eating plan from the AHA:
Energy (calories) should be adequate to support growth and development and to reach or maintain desirable body weight.
Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build. Kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
- Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for whole grain as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 1418-year-old boy.
- Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Childrens recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 1418-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 1418-year-old boy.
- Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
- Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 18, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 918 need 3 cups.
- Dont overfeed. Estimated calories needed by children range from 900/day for a 1-year-old to 1,800 for a 1418-year-old girl and 2,200 for a 1418-year-old boy.