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Nestlé study uncovers gaps in children’s diets, as French fries found to be no. 1 vegetable consumed

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-09-11  Views: 18
Core Tip: More than a quarter (27 percent) of young children do not consume a single discrete serving of vegetables on a given day, according to the findings from Nestlé’s Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS).
More than a quarter (27 percent) of young children do not consume a single discrete serving of vegetables on a given day, according to the findings from Nestlé’s Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS). Among the toddlers who do eat vegetables, French fries are the no. 1 vegetable consumed, raising serious concerns about the nutritional intake of this age group.

According to FITS, food choices tend to change and more nutrient gaps appear after a child’s first birthday, when most begin eating more family foods. By age two, many children have established taste preferences and eating habits that will last a lifetime, which is why pediatricians and public health experts urge parents to help their children set healthy eating behaviors early on.

Governments around the world are taking note of the importance of nutrition for children in different age groups to halt the rise of childhood obesity. Over the past year, the British government has stepped up its efforts to curb sugar consumption and introduced guidelines on healthy snacking for children. South Korea recently banned the sale of caffeinated products in schools nationwide, in an attempt “protect children from products that are damaging to their health and education.”

The latest FITS findings are well-timed to inform US food policy discussions, Nestlé notes. These discussions are to cover the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, which will include comprehensive dietary guidance for infants and toddlers (from birth to age 24 months) for the first time, as well as women who are pregnant.

“Good nutrition during a child’s early years is particularly critical because it sets the stage for healthy eating throughout life,” says Wendy Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Vice President, Nutrition, Health and Wellness for Nestlé USA. “Exposing young children to a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and a variety of foods and flavors is important as children are forming their tastes and eating habits for life.”

Other new FITS findings reveal that troubling nutrient shortfalls start early and many young children consume sweets and excess sodium:

Iron: The percentage of infants between 6 and 12 months old who do not consume the recommended amount of iron has increased from 7.5 percent in 2002 to 18 percent in 2016. Iron is a critical nutrient to support learning ability and brain development.

Vitamin D: Fewer than 25 percent of infants get the recommended amount of vitamin D, which the body needs for strong bones and teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily vitamin D supplement for infants who are exclusively breastfed or receive less than a liter of infant formula per day. Similarly, about 80 percent of 1- to 3-year-olds fall short on vitamin D.

Fiber: Fewer than 10 percent of children 12 to 48 months old get adequate amounts of dietary fiber.

Sodium: Forty percent of 1-year-olds and 70-75 percent of 2- to 3-year-olds exceed the upper limit for sodium. Processed meats like hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage and bacon are leading sources of sodium among young children. These foods also contribute saturated fat to their diets.

Sugar-sweetened beverages: About 10 percent of infants 6-12 months, 30 percent of 1-year-olds and 45 percent of 2- to 3-year-olds drink sugar-sweetened beverages on a given day, with fruit-flavored drinks being the most common.

“While academic organizations and the public health community have invested significantly in improving children’s food choices amidst the obesity epidemic, the conversation needs to start earlier, with focused efforts on infants and toddlers through education and interventions with proven benefits,” says Dr. Ryan Carvalho, M.D., Medical Director at Gerber.

children have different preferences for how food should be arranged on the plate to make them want to eat it, depending on gender and age.

The study shows that the younger girls (aged 7-8) prefer the separate serving style, while boys of the same age do not have a preference for how the food is arranged. Children between 12 and 14 prefer food to be either mixed or served as a mix of separate and mixed-together ingredients.

According to the involved researchers, appropriate presentation of foods may help to encourage children to eat more healthily.

Manufacturers are continually innovating in the fruit and vegetable space with interesting shapes, premium processing techniques and new flavors, offered in convenient packaging. Since convenience and novelty can be strategies to entice children to try more healthy foods, there is ample to space for further new product development.

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