Study: Poor Eating Habits Develop Early in Babies, Toddlers 29297

The obesity epidemic, which affects an estimated 10 percent of American children ages 2-5, is rooted in poor eating habits that begin between ages 12 and 24 months, a new study presented at the annual scientific meeting of The Obesity Society has found.

Diets low in whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables, frequent high-calorie between-meal snacks, and high amounts of saturated fat are all factors in toddlers' early diets that profoundly affect their later eating habits and, ultimately, weight.

"We're seeing poor eating habits starting early in life, and they mirror those of older children and adults. Parents and caregivers need to know that eating patterns are set early - between 12 to 24 months. It's crucial to establish the foundation for healthy diets early in life when eating habits and food preferences are being formed," said Kathleen Reidy, DrPH, RD, who heads the Nutrition Science department for Nestlé Infant Nutrition, which conducted the study. "The new findings show how simple changes can make significant improvements in children's diets."

Researchers recommend a list of changes parents can adopt--small adjustments that they say can make a big difference in their children's health:

  • Think of snacks as "mini-meals" that should include healthy, nutrition-dense foods like fruit, low-fat yogurt, or whole-grain products.
  • Offer water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Limit high-fat meats like hot dogs and bacon, relying instead on lean meats like turkey, or protein-dense vegetables like avocado.
  • After age 2, offer 1 percent or skim milk instead of 2 percent or whole milk.  The latter contains high levels of saturated fat.