Eat your vegetables

Many U.S. babies and toddlers still dont have a balanced diet

Despite some recent improvements in how
U.S. parents feed young children, more than half of babies
aren’t getting any breast milk and many toddlers don’t eat
enough fruits and veggies, a new study suggests.About two in five infants consume breast milk, which doctors
recommend for the health of mothers and babies alike. That
statistic didn’t change much over the study period from 2005 to
2012. But more parents stopped giving infants solid foods
before six months of age, a practice doctors discourage because
solids are harder to swallow and can be less nutritious and
higher in calories than breast milk or infant formula.At least nine in 10 toddlers consume at least a little bit
of either fruit or veggies on a typical day, and this didn’t
change much during the study period, researchers report in
Pediatrics. But the most common veggie was potatoes, while the
least popular option was dark green vegetables.”We knew from previous studies that more work was needed to
improve feeding habits in this age group, and we observed many
of the same trends in our study: a substantial proportion of
American infants are not breastfed, vegetable consumption is
lower than desired, and consumption of sweetened beverages and
sugary snacks is prevalent,” said study co-author Gandarvaka
Miles, a public health researcher at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill.”However, we did observe some trends in the right
direction,” Miles added by email.Pediatricians recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed
infants until at least six months of age because it can reduce
babies’ risk of ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant
death syndrome, allergies, childhood obesity and diabetes.Mothers can benefit too, with longer periods of
breastfeeding linked to lower risks of depression, bone
deterioration and certain cancers.From 2005 to 2008 and again from 2009 to 2012, researchers
surveyed parents about infant and toddler eating habits. For the
new study, they compared data collected from a total of 2,359
participants.The proportion of babies under six months of age who were
breastfed, exclusively or not, was little changed during this
time and was about 36 percent by the end of the study period.In this age group, however, there was a meaningful reduction
in use of infant cereals and fruit juices for babies, which were
being fed to 26 percent and 7 percent, respectively, by the end
of the study. Pediatricians recommend delaying fruit juice until
after age one.With the older children in the study, researchers found
toddlers were more likely to consume fried white potatoes than
green vegetables. Consumption of green veggies fell by half
during the study to only about 8 percent of toddlers by the end.”The rates for vegetable consumption are disappointing, as
most parents will know that vegetables are healthy but this
isn’t translating into consumption rates in their children,” Dr.
Helen Coulthard of De Montfort University in the UK, who wasn’t
involved in the study, said by email.One limitation of the study is that parents’ ability to
accurately recall and report on how they fed their children
during infancy and early childhood isn’t always reliable, the
authors note. Researchers also didn’t account for portion sizes.Still, the findings suggest that parents who struggle to
feed their kids the way doctors recommend may be in good
company, said Dr. Myles Faith, a researcher at the University at
Buffalo who wasn’t involved in the study.One of the best ways to get kids to try more foods is to
stick with it, and keep putting different things in front of
them to taste, Faith said by email.”Repeated exposure to foods increases children’s preferences
and intake,” Faith added. “So, the more opportunities infants
and children have to see, taste, and experience fruits and
vegetables, the more receptive they should become over time.”These efforts matter because they can influence children’s
eating habits and health later in life, said Dr. Elise Mok of
the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center in
Canada.”Early diet has been associated with weight status during
childhood and cardiometabolic health in adulthood,” Mok, who
wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.