New study findings provide deeper understanding of U.S. feeding patterns for infants and toddlers

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Evidence-based guidance for nutrition-related clinical practice, public health and policy

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – While infant breastfeeding is on the rise, other patterns have been identified in the diets of the nation’s infants and toddlers that raise concerns in a series of eight new articles co-authored by RTI International and Nestlé Research in the Journal of Nutrition (JN) Issue 9 Supplement. The JN Supplement provides a first look at the findings of the 2016 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS 2016), which builds on the first two FITS data cycles in 2002 and 2008, to understand the diets of very young children from birth to 4 years of age. FITS is the largest dietary intake study in the U.S. covering this important phase of life for growth and development.

These evidence-based studies are important because their results point to a need for individual-, community-, and policy-level strategies to improve the diets of young children in the U.S.,” explained Andrea Anater, RTI public health nutrition researcher and FITS principle investigator, as well as co-coordinator of the JN supplement and co-author of five of the Supplement papers. “As the U.S. sets Dietary Guidelines for Americans that include children under 24 months for the first time, the studies’ results should have a strong influence on recommendations to improve nutritional standards for America’s youngest children.”

Overall, important findings identified low consumption of iron-rich foods like baby food meats and infant cereals among older infants (6-11.9 mo); overconsumption of fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and other sweets; and a lack of variety in vegetable consumption. Many of these eating patterns could affect the overall long-term health of young children, particularly the lack of iron, a critical nutrient to support learning ability and brain development, in the diets of certain young children.

Key findings include:

  • About a quarter of children over 6 mo did not consume a distinct portion of vegetables on the day of the survey; of those who did, fried potatoes were the most commonly consumed vegetable. A similar proportion did not consume a distinct portion of fruit.
  • Almost all children consumed a grain product, but only 59% of toddlers and preschoolers consumed a wholegrain-rich product.
  • Most toddlers and preschoolers consumed meat or another protein food (about 90%), but infants 6-11.9 mos were much less likely to do so (41%).
  • Most children over 12 mo consumed cow’s milk, and most infants less than 9 mo did not; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing cow’s milk at 12 mo. However, nearly one fifth of infants 9 to 11.9 mo consumed cow’s milk, earlier than recommended.
  • About half of children over 12 mo consumed fruit juice, but many consumed more than the recommended amount for their age.
  • About three-quarters of toddlers and nearly all (90%) 2- and 3-year-olds consumed a dessert, sugar-sweetened beverage, or other sweet; one quarter of toddlers and nearly half of 2- and 3-year-olds consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage.
  • Some differences in food consumption patterns among racial/ethnic groups were observed.
  • Dietary intakes of U.S. infants are largely nutritionally adequate, but inadequate iron intakes among infants 6 to 11.9 mo are a concern. By 12 mo, once the transition to family foods is mostly complete, high intake of sodium (and, for 2- and 3- year-olds, excess saturated fat) and low intakes of potassium, fiber, and vitamin D are of concern.
  • Infants who participate in USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) were much less likely to breastfeed than were higher-income nonparticipants, but only slightly less likely than lower-income nonparticipants.
  • WIC participants were more likely to eat infant cereals and baby-food vegetables, both WIC-provided foods, than nonparticipants. Continued improvements in early dietary patterns are warranted for both WIC and non-WIC children.
  • WIC infants had better intakes of most nutrients than nonparticipants, and WIC toddlers and preschoolers had better intakes of iron and vitamin D than nonparticipants and ate less saturated fat but more added sugars than nonparticipants.

RTI International was, in partnership with Nestlé Research, responsible for study and sample design, recruiting and collecting data from eligible respondents, analyzing and interpreting the findings, and disseminating the results.

For more information about FITS, visit http://www.nestleusa.com/nutrition/fits; medical professionals can also learn more at www.medical.gerber.com/fits.

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