The updated findings from FITS 2008 – which evaluated the diets of 3,378 children from birth to four years of age – were presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference last week.
Kathleen Reidy, DrPH, RD, and head of nutrition science at Nestle Infant Nutrition, the lead author of an analysis examining top food sources contributing to calories, saturated fat and sodium intake in the diets of toddlers (12-23 months) and preschoolers (24-47 months), found that just a handful of foods contribute almost 50% of daily calories, including milk, cheese, bread and rolls, ready-to-eat cereals, poultry (chicken and turkey), butter and margarine/other fats.
"The first years of a child's life are a critical period of development. Instilling good eating habits during this time can help put a child on the path to a healthy future," Dr. Reidy said. "Our findings indicate snacks are a significant portion of young children's diets, and families can play an important role by planning nutritious snacks, especially when on-the-go."
Top foods representing 70% of saturated fat intake include milk, cheese, butter, hot dogs/bacon, beef, poultry and cakes/cookies. Top foods contributing almost 40% of young children's sodium intake include milk, hot dogs and bacon, chicken/turkey, cheese, bread and rolls, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals. This intake equates to a child (24-47 months) consuming an average of 1,863 milligrams of sodium per day.
The new findings complement previously released research from FITS, which showed 45% of toddlers and 78% of preschoolers consume more sodium than recommended.
Dr. Reidy also found that preschoolers are eating nearly one-third, or about 400, of their total daily calories from solid fats and added sugars.
Co-author Denise Deming, PhD, also analyzed dietary intake surveys for parents of 2,386 toddlers and preschoolers to lead a study on how snacking patterns among US toddlers and preschoolers differ according to location. She found that while many children consume milk, crackers and fresh fruits during snack time at home, sweets become the more popular choice when snacks are eaten away from home. Indeed, snacks consumed outside the home add about 50 additional calories to kids’ daily diets.
These insights may have implications for helping address childhood obesity among two- to four-year olds in the US, which continues to rise, according to a recent JAMA Pediatrics study of obesity rates among children ages 2 to 19. For example, because milk is so key in children's diets and a top contributor of such nutrients as protein, calcium, vitamins A, D, B12; thiamin and riboflavin, the authors recommend offering lower fat options, like 1% and skim, rather than limiting milk consumption altogether.
Study participants which included parents or primary caregivers of infants and young children completed twenty-four hour dietary recall surveys by telephone. For the study, parents or caregivers were allowed to define what foods children consumed as snacks and where these were consumed.
Source: Journal of the American Dietetic Association/Nestle Nutrition
“The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study 2008”
Authors: Ronette R. Briefel, Laura M. Kalb, Elizabeth Condon, Denise M. Deming, Nancy A. Clusen, Mary Kay Fox, Lisa Harnack, Erin Gemmill, Mary Stevens, Kathleen C. Reidy