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Preschoolers’ diets mimic unhealthy adult eating

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 20-Oct-2009

Many American preschoolers do not eat any fruit or vegetables in a given day and most eat too much sodium and saturated fat – a situation reminiscent of adult habits, according to Nestlé-sponsored research.

The results of the Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), carried out by non-partisan research organization Mathematica Policy Research, were presented at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo this week.

The last FITS study was carried out in 2002, and comparisons show that there have been some significant improvements in infant nutrition during the intervening six years, although there are still areas of concern, Nestlé said.

In particular, consumption of sweets and sweetened beverages among infants aged nine to 11 months has dropped from 59 percent in 2002 to 43 percent, and mothers are breastfeeding their children for longer, with 33 percent of nine- to 11-month-old babies still receiving breast milk, compared to 21 percent in 2002.

However, this latest survey found that 84 percent of preschoolers are consuming too much sodium, and although one-third consume less than the recommended 30 to 40 percent of calories from fat, 75 percent consume too much saturated fat.

"Parents and caregivers need support and education around the unique nutrition needs of young children. The 2008 FITS data shows us that more feeding guidance is needed during the transition to table foods,” said Dr Nancy Butte of the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine.

She added that eating patterns among toddlers mirror those of adults, and with 24 percent of two-to-five year old children overweight or obese in the US, she said “we need to put more focus on establishing healthy eating patterns during the first four years."

In addition, fruit and vegetable consumption habits have not changed since the 2002 survey, with 25 percent of older infants consuming no fruits on a given day, and 30 percent consuming no vegetables. French fries continue to be the most popular vegetable among toddlers and preschoolers, the research found.

The survey looked at the eating patterns of 3,378 babies and toddlers aged zero to four years across the US on a given day.

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